The Daily Briefing Monday, October 23, 2017

AROUND THE NFL

 

If The Season Ended Today in the AFC, Kansas City (an unstoppable juggernaut two weeks ago) has fallen to the 2nd seed:

 

                                             Overall     Division       Conference

Pittsburgh Steelers      ACN      5-2               3-0                4-1

Kansas City Chiefs     ACW      5-2               1-1                3-2

New England Patriots  ACN      5-2               1-0                2-1

Tennessee Titans        ACS      4-3               2-1                3-3

Buffalo Bills                 WC        4-2               1-0                 2-1

Miami Dolphins            WC       4-2               1-1                 3-1

Jacksonville Jaguars                 4-3              2-1                 4-2

Denver Broncos                        3-3              2-3                 2-2

Houston Texans                        3-3              1-1                 3-3

Baltimore Ravens                      3-4              2-1                3-2

New York Jets                           3-4              1-3                 3-4

Los Angeles Chargers    3-4                2-2                2-3                     

Oakland                                    3-4                 1-2                3-3

 

* – The composition of the six playoff teams are unchanged as all but Kansas City won this week.  The only change in seeding is Pittsburgh moving past the Chiefs.

 

* – The Jaguars were big winners on the undercard as Denver, Baltimore and the Jets lost while Houston was on bye.

 

* – With wins by the Chargers and Raiders, all four AFC West teams appear on the list above, as do all four AFC East teams.                                                                                  

– – –

There were three shutouts on Sunday.  This from Howard Frendrich of the AP:

 

With all of the emphasis on offense over the years, with rule changes intended to make it easier to score and harder to defend, it’s surprising — and not all that enjoyable — to see that sort of futile production.

 

In addition to the Los Angeles Chargers’ 21-0 victory over the Denver Broncos, the Los Angeles Rams’ 33-0 win over the Arizona Cardinals and the Jacksonville Jaguars’ 27-0 defeat of the Indianapolis Colts, there were these paltry scores Sunday: Chicago Bears 17, Carolina Panthers 3 in a game with zero TDs from either offense; Tennessee Titans 12, Cleveland Browns 9 in an all-field-goal OT dud; Seattle Seahawks 24, New York Giants 7; and New England Patriots 23, Atlanta Falcons 7 in a snooze-fest of a Super Bowl rematch at night.

 

Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

 

The last time there was a trio of shutouts in a single week of the season was in December 2012. The last time four teams were blanked simultaneously? Need to go all the back to November 1983.

 

“It was fun,” Chargers QB Philip Rivers said after his club dealt the Broncos their first shutout in a quarter-century, “to watch our defense play.”

 

Not much fun for anyone else.

 

Now the question is what caused this.

 

One common thread Sunday was the lack of good quarterback play.

 

Some related notes:

 

@ESPNStatsInfo 

Both Rams & Chargers recorded shutouts Sunday. It’s 1st time in Super Bowl era 2 teams from the same city recorded shutouts in the same week

 

@ESPNStatsInfo 

Longest Scoring Streaks in NFL History

49ers       420  1977-2004

Broncos   394 (ended today)

Colts        375 (ended today)

 

 

– – –

The NFL has revealed that Justin Timberlake will headline the Super Bowl Halftime Show in the Land of 10,000 Lakes.  This from the Minneapolis Star-Tribune:

 

Justin Timberlake will headline the Super Bowl LII halftime show for the big game taking place in Minneapolis on Feb. 4, it was announced on NBC’s “Sunday Night Football.”

 

“I want to put together a performance that unifies,” Timberlake said Sunday in a brief interview. The star pledged to get people dancing.

 

Timberlake said he was “immediately excited” when offered the halftime gig.

 

He was asked if there was discussion with the NFL about the 2004 wardrobe malfunction when Timberlake performed with Janet Jackson at the Super Bowl and part of her breast was exposed.

 

“That won’t happen this time,” said Timberlake, who also performed at the 2001 Super Bowl halftime when he was a member of N’ Sync and the boy band teamed up with Britney Spears and Aerosmith for the halftime performance. “There was a little talk. No, that’s not going to happen.”

 

Timberlake, 36, said he’s been studying previous halftime shows and he was especially taken by U2’s program in 2002, a tribute to 9/11.

 

“I want to take the opportunity to put together a performance that unifies,” Timberlake said “And at some point have everyone shaking their booties.”

 

The halftime show, with its massive TV audience, is described by the NFL as the “most-watched musical event of the year” across all platforms.

 

Timberlake joins other musical megastars who’ve played the Super Bowl, including Lady Gaga, Coldplay, Beyoncé, Katy Perry, Bruno Mars, Madonna, the Who, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Prince, the Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney and more.

 

Super Bowl halftime acts rarely have anything to do with the host city, but Timberlake does have loose ties to Minnesota via his wife, actress Jessica Biel, who was born in Ely.

 

More tangentially, Timberlake might add a little local flavor into the show in another way: He’s a devout Prince fan, so let’s hope he would pay tribute to the late Minneapolis legend (and greatest halftime act ever).

 

FYI – One of Minnesota’s 10,000 Lakes is indeed called Timber Lake.  Located in Jackson County near the Iowa border, it covers 191 acres and appears to have not much going on, even by Minnesota standards (0 cabin rentals for example).  And if you were wondering, if one defines a lake as a body of water covering at least 10 acres, Minnesota actually has 11,842 lakes.

 

NFC NORTH

 

CHICAGO

Sunday in Chicago, S EDDIE JACKSON of the Bears scored 12 points, all the other players in the game had 8.  Peter King:

 

The rookie fourth-round pick from Alabama was the last of 10 Crimson Tide players drafted in 2017, but he made history Sunday against the Panthers. Jackson won a starting job in camp, and against Carolina he repaid the coaches for their faith in him. He scored two long touchdowns in the first 18 minutes of the Bears’ 17-3 upset win. Jackson ran 75 yards with a recovered fumble nine minutes into the game. And early in the second quarter he grabbed a tipped pass from Cam Newton and romped 76 yards down the right sideline. He’s the first player in the NFL’s 98 seasons to have two defensive touchdowns of at least 75 yards in a game, and he was the biggest factor in Chicago’s third win of the season.

 

 

GREEN BAY

The DB was ready to cut some slack for QB BRETT HUNDLEY’s indifferent showing against the Vikings when thrust into the game without warning against a tough team playing on its home field.

 

But Sunday, he was going up against the Saints at home with preparation.  Still not too much to write home about.  Mark Maske of the Washington Post:

 

here might not be a more indispensable player in the NFL than Aaron Rodgers. That was evident in his last full game for the Green Bay Packers before he suffered his broken right collarbone, when his latest dose of late-game quarterbacking magic beat the Cowboys in Dallas. It was reminiscent of how Rodgers ousted the Cowboys from last season’s NFC playoffs to get the Packers to the NFC title game.

 

So now that the Packers are without Rodgers, the assumption is that things will not go well. And that assumption was pretty much on target Sunday, as Brett Hundley made his first NFL start and the Packers lost at Lambeau Field to the New Orleans Saints, 26-17.

 

The Packers held things together for a while. Tailback Aaron Jones ran for 131 yards. Hundley had a first-half touchdown run on a scramble, and the Packers led, 14-7, at halftime.

 

But Saints quarterback Drew Brees, after throwing two early interceptions, got things revved up in the second half on his way to a 27-for-38, 331-yard passing day. And the Rodgers-less Packers simply could not keep pace.

 

Hundley threw for only 87 yards and had a passer rating of 39.9. The Packers had hoped that, after he threw three interceptions a week earlier during a loss to the Minnesota Vikings after Rodgers was hurt on a hit by Anthony Barr, a week of practice-field preparations would have Hundley ready to play better. Coach Mike McCarthy bristled at the suggestion that the Packers might consider signing Colin Kaepernick and spoke about the time he had invested in Hundley, a fifth-round draft choice in 2015 out of UCLA.

 

The early returns are not promising. ESPN reported earlier Sunday that Rodgers, after undergoing surgery, might be able to resume throwing in six weeks, leaving open the possibility that he could play again late in the season.

 

But that only makes sense if Hundley can keep the Packers in the playoff chase. Rodgers would not be brought back so soon for meaningless games. The losses to the Vikings and Saints have dropped Green Bay’s record to 4-3.

 

Clearly it’s time to panic without Rodgers. Rodgers is not around to tell Packers fans to relax. He is not there to predict that the Packers will run the table. There is no turnaround in sight.

 

Rodgers is not the league’s No. 1 star. That distinction belongs to Tom Brady, the greatest quarterback in NFL history. But if the New England Patriots were to lose Brady, they could turn to Jimmy Garoppolo. They still would find ways to win games, in all probability. Garoppolo is more than competent, and the coaching genius of Bill Belichick and his offensive coordinator, Josh McDaniels, would be on vivid display, just as it was early last season when the Patriots went 3-1 with Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett filling in at quarterback while Brady served his four-game Deflategate suspension.

 

There is no such backup plan for the Packers.

 

If Sunday was any indication, this will not go too well.

 

 

MINNESOTA

Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com says the return of TEDDY BRIDGEWATER won’t happen this week.

 

Lost in the fact that Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater has been cleared to practice but not play is the reality that, for the kind of injury Bridgewater sustained (and in light of the position he plays), clearance to practice is clearance to play.

 

Which means that he’s good to go, right now, if the Vikings want him to play.

 

But the Vikings don’t want him to play, right now. As one source explained it, the Vikings and Bridgewater definitely don’t want him to play next week in London, given the notoriously slippery surfaces of the soccer pitches that periodically transmogrify into gridirons.

 

So he’ll be back on the roster for Week 10, the first post-bye game to be played by the Vikings. The question then becomes when he’ll actually play.

 

That one will be more complicated, given that Case Keenum has played very well this season in the absence of Bridgewater and Sam Bradford. Keenum has been good, but Bridgewater could be better — and he could take the Vikings farther than Keenum ever will.

 

So go ahead and put this one in the “good problem to have” category, even though that good problem quickly could become just a problem.

 

NFC EAST

 

DALLAS

Another road block to the NFL’s quest to sideline RB EZEKIEL ELLIOTT ASAP as the case’s new judge does not see any reason to disrupt her post-vacation schedule to meet the NFL’s demands:

 

A judge has rejected the NFL’s request for an expedited hearing on Ezekiel Elliott’s injunction of his six-game suspension, meaning the Dallas Cowboys running back will be available to play Sunday against the Washington Redskins.

 

Judge Katherine Polk Failla of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York ruled Monday that Elliott’s hearing will be held, as originally scheduled, on Oct. 30.

 

The NFL had sought an expedited hearing on the temporary restraining order granted to Elliott last week in the ongoing court battle over his six-game suspension for violating the league’s personal conduct policy.

 

In its filing, the league said the NFL Players Association cannot satisfy the requirements for preliminary relief, cannot demonstrate a likelihood of success on the merits and hasn’t shown that it, or Elliott, will suffer irreparable harm absent an injunction.

 

– – –

DL DAVID IRVING felt he had to do something, so he waited until the Anthem was over.  Demetrio Tenniente in the Houston Chronicle:

 

Sunday, in the Cowboys’ first game since owner Jerry Jones took a firm stance against national anthem protests, defensive lineman David Irving was seen briefly raising a fist at the songs’ conclusion.

 

Earlier in the week, Irving hinted that he would do something during the national anthem but maintained he would not “disrespect the flag.”

 

After the Cowboys’ loss to Green Bay two weeks ago, Jones said that anyone who disrespects the flag would not be allowed to play.

 

Following his comments about potential action during the national anthem, Irving posted a photo on Instagram from a previous game, with a fist over his heart rather than a palm.

 

Irving’s manager, Louis Bing, released a statement on Saturday saying Irving never explicitly said he would protest or that he was challenging Jones.

 

Irving missed the first four games for a PED suspension.  He has three sacks in the two contests since his return after four sacks last season in 15 games.  He is straight outta Compton, by way of Iowa State and the Chiefs (which may not actually be straight out of Compton).

– – –

The Cowboys will be without PK DAN BAILEY for a bit.  Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

The Cowboys turned to safety Jeff Heath as a fill-in for kicker Dan Bailey during Sunday’s game against the 49ers and Heath made a couple of extra points during the 40-10 victory.

 

Bailey injured his groin and Ian Rapoport of NFL Media reports on Monday that he will miss several weeks while he recovers from the injury. Heath’s double duty won’t be continuing, however.

 

Coach Jason Garrett didn’t discuss how long Bailey will be out, but said on 105.3 The Fan on Monday that the team will look at other kicking options to be ready for his continued absence. He didn’t name any names, but Field Yates of ESPN reports that Mike Nugent, Jason Myers, Sam Irwin Hill and Younghoe Koo are on the list.

 

Myers was recently cut by the Jaguars in favor of Josh Lambo, who lost the Chargers job to Koo this summer. Koo was discarded in favor of Nick Novak while Nugent came up short in a competition at Giants camp this summer. Irwin Hill spent the summer with Dallas as a camp leg alongside Bailey.

 

Bailey made his first two PATs on Sunday, then could not go any further.  How good is he?  Well, he is the most accurate FG kicker in NFL history at 89.9% and has hit his last 174 consecutive kicks (FGs & PATs) of 46 yards or less. He’s made all 23 combined kicks this year.

 

It should be noted that PK JUSTIN TUCKER of the Ravens could displace Bailey as the most accurate FG kicker.  Tucker is at 89.6% right now – but would be at an even 90 if he makes his next 8 FG tries.

 

 

WASHINGTON

Sean Wagner-McGough of CBSSports.com says it will be the Redskins over Philly tonight:

 

In the aftermath of Aaron Rodgers’ likely season-ending injury, the Philadelphia Eagles are suddenly (and seriously) the new favorites in the mediocre-at-best NFC. So, it’s good timing then — not that anyone wanted to see Rodgers’ season end in October — that their first game as favorites will take place in primetime against a division rival.

 

For Week 7 of “Monday Night Football,” it’s the Redskins at the Eagles in a key NFC East matchup.

 

At 3-2, the Redskins are very much alive in the division, but a loss to the 5-1 Eagles might put an end to their hopes to emerge out of the NFC East considering they already lost to the Eagles back in Week 1. A win, on the other hand, would insert them right back into the race. Meanwhile, the 5-1 Eagles are looking to cement their status atop the division and the conference. A win on Monday night would maintain their top position in the race for the No. 1 seed in the NFC.

 

I’m taking the Redskins to shock the Eagles. A season defined by failed expectations and parody sees another upset.

 

The prediction: Redskins 28, Eagles 27

 

My “MNF” prediction record: 5-1

 

Two solid QBs, two solid defenses

Nobody could’ve expected the timeline of Carson Wentz’s development to be accelerated this much. Last summer, the expectation was for Wentz to redshirt behind Sam Bradford and take over during the 2017 season. Instead, the Eagles traded Bradford on the eve of the season, Wentz took his lumps during his (massively overrated) rookie season — 16 touchdowns, 14 picks, 6.2 YPA, and a 79.3 passer rating — and now he’s demonstrating why the Eagles took him No. 2 overall a year ago.

 

After the first six games of the season, he’s thrown 13 touchdowns and three picks, averaged 7.7 yards per attempt, and posted a 99.6 passer rating. He’s gotten there by improving his deep ball. According to Pro Football Focus, Wentz has completed 10 of 29 passes thrown 20-plus yards downfield for 416 yards, four touchdowns, a pick, and a 108.1 passer rating — the sixth-highest rating in football.

 

But Wentz isn’t perfect. He can be exploited by putting pressure on him. If the Redskins can get after him, they’ll have a chance to leave Philadelphia with an upset. According to PFF, Wentz has a 59.9 passer rating under pressure — 22nd out of 32 qualified quarterbacks. His passer rating when kept clean? 114.3, fifth out of 32 qualified quarterbacks.

 

Wentz has been under pressure on 33.9 percent of his dropbacks, the NFL’s 13th-lowest pressure rate, per PFF. The Redskins have forced pressure on 37.8 percent of their defensive snaps, so they can get after the quarterback. The Redskins’ ability to manufacture a pass rush might just determine this game.

 

The Eagles are lucky that they’re catching the Redskins at this time of the season. ESPN reported on Wednesday that Washington first-round defensive end Jonathan Allen will miss the rest of the season with a foot injury. And star cornerback Josh Norman has yet to return since suffering a ribs injury earlier this month.

 

The Redskins still have capable playmakers on the defensive side of the ball — Preston Smith, Ryan Kerrigan, and Matt Ioannidis have combined for 11.5 sacks, and Kendall Fuller has two picks — so don’t expect them to be throttled by the Eagles. The Redskins’ defense is ranked 10th in DVOA.

 

 

NFC SOUTH

 

ATLANTA

The Steve Sarkesian version of the Falcons offense is not very high octane.  Vaughn McClure of EPSN.com:

 

– Atlanta Falcons coach Dan Quinn said the mood of his team was “edgy in a good way” heading into Sunday night’s Super Bowl rematch with the New England Patriots.

 

But after a 23-7 loss, the Falcons are on the edge of seeing their entire season blow up in their faces, kind of like the way they imploded after that 25-point lead in the Super Bowl.

 

The Falcons, who started the season 3-0, seemed intent on regaining their swagger this week, especially after losing a 17-point lead in a loss to the Dolphins the week before. But getting demolished inside foggy Gillette Stadium by Tom Brady and crew sent the reeling Falcons, now 3-3, to a three-game losing streak with no real signs of a pulse.

 

Their record would indicate the Falcons are average, but in reality they’ve earned failing grades across the board.

 

An offense that was supposed to be feared and that averaged a league-best 33.8 points per game last season was shut out until the 4:09 mark of the fourth quarter by a Patriots defense ranked dead last in the league in yards allowed and passing yards allowed. Offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian, in his first year calling plays in the NFL, continued to be the object of criticism with questionable playcalls, including a jet sweep to Taylor Gabriel on a fourth-and-1 play that resulted in a 5-yard loss. It had folks wondering why a short-yardage run by Devonta Freeman wasn’t called instead.

 

The Falcons finished 2-for-9 on third down — including 0-for-5 in the first half — and were 1-for-4 in the red zone. That far below expectations, even without former coordinator Kyle Shanahan calling the plays.

 

“We’re just not on the same page yet,” wide receiver Julio Jones said of the offense. “It’s not just about … it’s everybody. We just have to keep working. Every game is different.

 

“Last week, probably we could have took shots down [the field]. And this week, it was third down and the red zone. Every game is totally different, so you never know. Just situational ball. That’s it. We’ve just got to do better.”

 

While Sarkisian will take the brunt of the blame, quarterback Matt Ryan knows he has to shoulder some of it, too. He misfired on a few shots in the red zone, overthrowing his targets. And he underthrew Jones on a deep ball that could have been one of those explosive plays the Falcons keep talking about (although Jones did appear to be interfered with on the play).

 

Ryan’s best plays against the Pats came on runs, and that’s never a good sign.

 

An offense consisting of the reigning MVP, an All-Pro in Jones, a Pro Bowler in Freeman and blazers in Gabriel and Tevin Coleman shouldn’t go 91-plus minutes without scoring. But that’s exactly what the Falcons did between their second-quarter score against the Dolphins in Week 6 and Ryan’s 1-yard touchdown pass to Jones in the fourth quarter on Sunday.

 

 

TAMPA BAY

Give Coach Dirk Koetter some credit for candor after a tough loss in Buffalo, as S T.J. WARD seems to slam the coaches for not putting him in position to give up TD passes often enough.  Rick Stroud in the Tampa Bay Times:

 

 “My biggest concern is we’re 2-4,” Koetter said. “Of course, when you’re not playing up to expectations, it’s easy for your team to shatter from the inside out.”

 

After the game, three-time Pro Bowl safety T.J. Ward said he was “at my wits’ end,” being used as a part-time player.

 

“I mean, that’s not why I came here,” Ward said. “I did not come here to rotate. I didn’t come here to be a part-time player. I came here to make this defense better. Be on the field 100 percent of the time. I destruct offenses. That’s what I do. I need to be out there. You got me in one minute, one minute. Last week, I didn’t even play the first half.”

 

Ward, who missed two games with a hip injury, also had his fingerprints on the loss by allowing a TD pass to Logan Thomas.

 

NFC WEST

 

SAN FRANCISCO

Peter King on Dwight Clark’s big day:

 

I think that was a touching, lovely ceremony the 49ers put on for former wide receiver Dwight Clark, who has ALS and appeared with 37 of his former teammates at halftime of, fittingly, the Dallas-San Francisco game Sunday in Santa Clara. When the team asked him what he wanted to do, seeing that so many people wanted to see him and honor him, Clark said, “I just want to see my teammates.” As Clark said Sunday: “And the 49ers heard that and flew in all these players so I could see them one more time.” With his strength in decline and struggling with his speech, Clark thanked his mates and his fans in an emotional speech that brought owner Eddie DeBartolo to tears. I have a feeling he wasn’t the only one.

 

AFC NORTH

 

BALTIMORE

QB JOE FLACCO is resigned to be part of mediocrity.  Marc Sessler of NFL.com:

 

Not a pretty sight.

 

How else to describe the handiwork of Baltimore’s offense in a decisive 24-16 loss to the Vikings that didn’t look as close as the score?

 

Once again, quarterback Joe Flacco found himself short-handed and running for his life, left with just Michael Campanaro and a back-from-the-wilderness Griff Whalen at receiver after Mike Wallace left with concussion concerns.

 

It showed, as Flacco threw for just 51 yards in the first half and 186 on the day for a Ravens attack that generated a ridiculous 3.3 yards per play.

 

“It just is what it is,” Flacco said after the game, per the team’s official website. “It obviously isn’t the best situation, but we have to make it work.”

 

Yes, this Vikings defense looks like a Super Bowl-level collection of players, but the Ravens couldn’t put up a fight with wideouts Jeremy Maclin, Breshad Perriman and Chris Matthews all nursing injuries.

 

With equal problems up front, Flacco was left bouncing around a collapsing pocket, taking five sacks on the day and getting no help from the ground game.

 

“We weren’t able to really take any deep shots over top of them for whatever reason — whether it was personnel, or what they were giving us,” Flacco said. “Obviously, down the stretch, we tried to throw the ball deep there a couple of times, but there just wasn’t much happening on that end of it.”

 

The Ravens have long fit the mold of a defensive-minded club that got just enough from the offense to reliably churn out playoff campaigns. This year’s attack, though, looms as one of the worst league-wide.

 

Set the face the Dolphins on Thursday Night Football, the opportunity for the Ravens to fix their issues — and get fully healthy — won’t be given much of a window.

 

As Flacco said himself, it is what it is.

 

 

CINCINNATI

Rookie RB JOE MIXON wonders why he fell out of the game plan in the second half of Sunday’s loss at Pittsburgh.  Kevin Patra of NFL.com:

 

The Cincinnati Bengals’ offense earned 19 total yards in the second half of Sunday’s 29-14 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Running back Joe Mixon has an idea about how the Bengals’ offense could have gotten on track: Give him the ball.

 

“It’s frustrating. I feel like I’m seeing [Le’Veon Bell] got the ball 35 times, and I got it seven in the first half and then don’t touch the ball again,” Mixon said, via Katherine Terrell of ESPN. “[Jeremy] Hill only got one touch in the second half. It’s frustrating to us running backs. We feel like we’re in the room and we feel like we’re part of the offense. If it worked in the first half, why not do it in the second?”

 

Mixon had two catches in the second half, but zero rushes after going for 48 yards on his seven first-half totes. Jeremy Hill had just one second-half carry. Giovani Bernard took two totes. Meanwhile, Andy Dalton dropped back 17 times in the final two frames.

 

Coach Marvin Lewis curtly responded when asked about Mixon.

 

“He was there in the third quarter,” Lewis said. “Whatever plays are called are called.”

 

Mixon played 22 plays, seven of which came in the second half, per Next Gen Stats. Bernard saw 23 snaps, while Hill played a total of 15.

 

Game script played a part in the lack of running game. When the Bengals got down double digits, they abandoned the ground attack. While Cincy’s offense had been better since offensive coordinator Bill Lazor took over, they looked lost Sunday versus Pittsburgh’s smothering defense. A.J. Green was similarly shut down, earning just three catches for 41 yards. He didn’t have a reception after the first quarter.

 

Mixon pointed to Le’Veon Bell for Pittsburgh, who had 35 carries and three receptions, as the type of load the rookie thinks he can handle.

 

“Me personally, I feel like I can do way more than [Bell] did. Like I said, I only had seven carries. I can’t showcase nothing if I don’t get the ball. There’s nothing else I can say,” Mixon said.

 

We’ll pump the breaks on Mixon getting a Lev Bell-type of workload, but it should be clear by now the rookie is the Bengals’ best back. He’s shifty in space, has great vision, and hits the hole. His ability to make people miss and fall forward is advantageous behind a struggling offensive line. Mixon, however, needs to work on his pass protection if he wants to play more snaps (and by relation get more touches).

 

It’s fair to wonder if it’s time for Lewis to thin out his running back rotation by trading Jeremy Hill, similar to what the New Orleans Saints did with Adrian Peterson. Paring down the rotation will allow the team’s best back to be on the field more, and provide some consistency for an up-and-down offense.

 

 

CLEVELAND

Even with a sure-fire Hall of Famer on their offensive line, the 2017 Browns are 32nd in the NFL in points per game at 14.7.  Now, they won’t have that Hall of Famer for the final 9 games of the season as the great Iron Man streak of T JOE THOMAS comes to an end.  Peter King:

 

My first reaction after Cleveland tackle Joe Thomas suffered a triceps injury that knocked him out of the game for the first time in 167 NFL games: Is it possible his record streak will never be broken? Could this be a Cal Ripken streak, or maybe even one that’s harder to break? Ripken’s streak of 2,632 consecutive games played was achieved over 17 seasons and likely won’t be broken. But he came out of games. He didn’t play 2,632 complete games. Thomas’ streak was compiled over 11 seasons. He played every play of his first 166 games in the NFL, since being drafted in 2007, and then 38 plays of his 167th game, against Tennessee, before getting injured while blocking for a Duke Johnson running play with 5:35 left in the third quarter. Thomas shoved a linebacker with his left hand, something he must have done 1,000 times in his career. Only this time his arm buckled. Thomas fell to the ground in pain and had to leave the game. Second-year tackle Spencer Drango from Baylor will be the answer to a trivia question forever. He was the first Browns player other than Joe Thomas to play left tackle since 2006.

 

There’s a high likelihood that Thomas tore the triceps—he was scheduled to have an MRI Monday morning—and if he did, his season’s over. In any case, the streak is over. By my possibly imprecise calculations (I went through Pro Football Focus snap counts Sunday night), an offensive lineman who learned from Thomas for the first four years of his career, Mitchell Schwartz, is slightly more than halfway to Thomas’ consecutive plays streak—assuming the PFF numbers are correct. Schwartz played four years with Cleveland and now is in his second with the Chiefs, and he has played every regular-season play of a five-and-a-half-year career—87 games, 5,891 snaps. If he can play every play for the next five seasons, Schwartz will be in Thomas’ league.

 

@SI_PeterKing

Just 2.0% of all active NFL players played every snap in 2016. Joe Thomas played every Cleveland offensive snap for 10 years and 6 games.

 

Thomas was taking it well Sunday night, one friend said, and not angry or crushed about it. He figures he was fortunate to be on the field for every snap of 167 straight games, something that will be incredibly hard to top. The legacy of Thomas is not just his durability, but his greatness: It’s likely he’ll be voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame one day, an amazing achievement considering he’s played on the worst team in football for a decade. That how good, and how well-respected, Joe Thomas has been.

 

 

PITTSBURGH

WR MARTAVIS BRYANT crosses a line in directly calling out a teammate he thinks is getting his snaps.  Ryan Wilson of CBSSports.com:

 

Shortly after the Steelers beat the Chiefs last Sunday, reports emerged that big-play wide receiver Martavis Bryant wanted to be traded because he was upset with his role in the offense. Bryant quickly denied it and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said Tuesday that after speaking to Bryant, it’s clear the wideout wants to stay in Pittsburgh.

 

Fast-forward to this Sunday, shortly after the Steelers beat the Bengals and it appears that Bryant, once again, wants to be traded. The wide receiver was targeted twice in the game and finished with one catch for three yards to go along with a two-yard carry. By Monday, Bryant was a no-show for a team meeting, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Ed Bouchette.

 

@EdBouchette

Martavis Bryant did not show up for required steelers meetings monday. “Called in sick” one teammate said

 

“He wants out,” a source close to Bryant told ESPN.com‘s Jeremy Fowler. “Point blank.”

 

As Fowler notes, Bryant made his feelings known on social media. In a since-deleted response to an Instagram post from user @fantasyfootballcounselor that tagged the wideout, Bryant said, “JuJu [Smith-Schuster] is no where near better than me, fool. All they need to do is give me what I want and y’all can have JuJu and whoever else.”

 

@chasepwilliams

Martavis Bryant just can’t help himself. Now he calls out JuJu Smith-Schuster on his instagram. Bryant had 1 catch for 3 yards. #Steelers

 

Bryant later clarified himself, tagging Smith-Schuster with his follow-up remarks.

 

“JuJu is the future and got great talent and is going to be one of the best to play this game,” Bryant explained. “I want him to get his. I just want mines, period, point-blank. Ain’t nobody did nothing to get me back. I worked my ass off to get myself back with no help and little support, period. In due time the process will show.”

 

Fowler notes that Bryant was heavily involved in practice in the days leading up to the Bengals game but the Steelers’ offense ran through running back Le’Veon Bell, who carried the ball 35 times for 134 yards. Roethliberger attempted just 24 passes, completed 14 and Antonio Brown’s four receptions for 65 yards led the team.

 

Bryant, who had eight touchdowns as a rookie in 2014 and six more a season later, missed all of 2016 due to a suspension. Through seven games this season, he has just 18 receptions for 234 yards and one touchdown.

 

Now presumably somewhere among the other 31 member clubs there is a team that will take a swing at getting Bryant.  But surely he is diminishing his market as many teams wouldn’t want to touch someone who is going to bitch this month in a year he is being used enough to be on a pace for about 60 catches.

 

Bryant’s agent is claiming there actually was a Monday doctor’s visit to cover for his absence.

 

AFC SOUTH

 

HOUSTON

The 3-3 Texans get their left tackle DUANE BROWN back after a long, apparently fruitless, holdout.  Marc Sessler of NFL.com:

 

Duane Brown is back.

 

NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported Monday that the veteran left tackle has returned to work with the Texans, ending his lengthy holdout, per a source.

 

Missing all of training camp and the first six games of Houston’s season in search of a new deal, Brown is now eligible to play for the Texans — or be traded.

 

RapSheet

Barring the unforeseen, #Texans LT Duane Brown is back to play for his team, not get traded. They get a star LT back for the final 10 games

 

Under contract through next season, the 32-year-old Brown is physically ready to practice, Rapoport was told, with the bookend saying all along that he planned to play this season.

 

In his absence, Chris Clark has filled in at left tackle for a Texans team off to a 3-3 start with promising rookie quarterback Deshaun Watson under center.

 

It’s a boon to have Brown return. The Texans can use his help and experience, especially if they truly plan to hold on to him. We’ll find out soon enough.

 

 

 

INDIANAPOLIS

Peter King is doing a story on Chris Mortensen – and he spoke to embattled Colts coach Chuck Pagano:

 

Last week I spoke with Colts coach Chuck Pagano—who was diagnosed five years ago this month with leukemia—because he counseled Mortensen about what he was going to face early in his treatment in 2016. At the end of our conversation, I asked Pagano about a possession he valued highly.

 

“I could name so many things. I wear bracelets for cancer patients to this day. I get emotional now. Sorry. Sorry. [A 12-second pause.] It’s not about the things. It’s about the people. It’s the people I value.

 

“There was … [Five seconds. Pagano is crying.] Let me get myself together. One of the games I got to go to when I was in treatment, I got out of the hospital, I had some time at home, and then they said I was healthy enough and could sit up in the box and watch a game. Before the game, I met two patients, two kids, in the tunnel. One was a girl, Mickey. The other was a boy, Cory. I met ’em both in the tunnel, and we talked and spent some time together.

 

“Cory [Ten- or 12-second pause] … He had bone cancer. He couldn’t walk, but he lifted himself out of his chair to hug me. [Another pause] He says, ‘You’re gonna beat this! You can beat this!’

 

“That’s something I’ll carry with me forever. Cory died a few months later. For every story that ends well, many don’t. But Cory will live on with me.”

 

AFC EAST

 

BUFFALO

The Bills didn’t expect much from WR DEONTE THOMPSON, signed off the street this week.  Wrong.  Mike Rodak of ESPN.com:

 

Through six games, the Buffalo Bills’ second-leading wide receiver in terms of yards is not second-round rookie Zay Jones or veteran Andre Holmes.

 

It is Deonte Thompson, whom the Bills signed on Tuesday.

 

Thompson caught four passes for a team-high 107 yards in Sunday’s 30-27 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, placing him second to Jordan Matthews (172 yards in five games) on the Bills’ stat sheet among wide receivers this season. Thompson was able to quickly see the field, in part because of his history with Tyrod Taylor. And that experience could help Thompson become Taylor’s favorite receiver in short order.

 

There was a sizable void to be filled at receiver for the Bills when they signed Thompson, 28, coming off their bye week. Through the first five games, Bills wide receivers were averaging 10.2 targets, 4.8 receptions and 63.2 yards per game — the lowest rates in the NFL since at least 2001, according to ESPN Stats & Information data.

 

Enter Thompson. Initially signed by Buffalo off the Baltimore Ravens’ practice squad in Week 15 of the 2014 season, Thompson played in the 2014 season finale for the Bills and spent training camp with the team in 2015. He was placed on injured reserve during final cuts that summer and later released, catching on with the Chicago Bears.

 

In 23 games for Chicago in 2015 and 2016, including six starts, Thompson caught 24 passes for 330 yards and two touchdowns. He started three of the Bears’ first five games this season, catching 11 passes for 125 yards and one touchdown before he was abruptly released Oct. 11.

 

The Bills signed Thompson six days later. While Thompson never played with Taylor in Buffalo, the two had a shared history of playing in an All-American game in high school and for almost three seasons with the Baltimore Ravens from 2012 through 2014.

 

“I trust him,” Taylor said after Sunday’s game. “I trust all [the Bills’ receivers]. [Thompson] was able to take advantage of some of the matchups and he was able to make some plays downfield.”

 

Thompson gave the Bills the deep threat they were lacking so far this season. He caught a 27-yard pass from Taylor in the second quarter, grabbed a 23-yard pass in the fourth quarter and made the defining play of the afternoon by finding open space along the left sideline for a 44-yard gain with less than four minutes remaining in the contest. That play, which also included a 15-yard unnecessary-roughness call against Tampa Bay, set up the Bills’ game-tying touchdown.

 

“I just knew what time it was in the game,” Thompson said. “I was like, if he throws to me, I’m coming down with this ball, regardless.”

 

 

MIAMI

QB MATT MOORE looks to get the call Thursday after QB JAY CUTLER’s cracked ribs are confirmed.  Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Dolphins head coach Adam Gase provided an update about quarterback Jay Cutler‘s condition on Monday and confirmed that Cutler suffered “multiple cracked ribs” on a hit by Jets linebacker Jordan Jenkins in the third quarter of Sunday’s game.

 

Gase did not officially rule Cutler out for Thursday’s game against the Ravens, but did say that the chances of having him in the lineup don’t look good.

 

“It’s not an easy injury because it’s tough to breathe,” Gase said, via Adam Beasley of the Miami Herald.

 

Gase said that going with Matt Moore this week wouldn’t lead to any big changes to the offense because there’s nothing to scale back for a quarterback who has been with the team longer than Cutler. He also fielded a question about whether Cutler will definitely get the job back when healthy and responded “you’re getting way ahead of me” because he’s just focusing on this week.

 

It’s a question Gase will surely get again if Moore starts and plays well in a win against the Ravens, but the Dolphins would be 5-2 in that circumstance and that makes it a bit easier to deal with the unexpected curves of an NFL season.

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

ANTHEM

Commissioner Roger Goodell continues to act like he believes his primary duty in the wake of some of his players protesting for social justice through the National Anthem is to make sure those players know he is ultimately on their side and means no disrespect for their concerns.  Peter King approves his latest gambit:

 

First, to a meeting at a Jersey City, N.J., hotel that, in light of current American and football events, you should know about.

 

In 14 games played Thursday and Sunday, 11 uniformed players either sat or kneeled during the national anthem as a measure of protest over the U.S. criminal-justice system, community-police relations, and the plight of minorities in this country. Eight of those 11 active players were Seahawks. That makes commissioner Roger Goodell’s road trip Saturday afternoon to see Seattle wide receiver Doug Baldwin all the more interesting. Baldwin sent a lengthy proposal to the league 10 days ago with some of his ideas for league-player partnerships around criminal-justice and police reform, and he and Goodell co-signed a letter to Congress last week, urging legislators to reduce minimum sentencing for nonviolent drug criminals. That was fairly stunning, to see the league get involved in a political cause like that.

 

Goodell wanted to meet and discuss issues with Baldwin. So Saturday afternoon in Jersey City, they sat down for about 70 minutes. Baldwin—African-American, the son of a cop in Pensacola, Fla.—is an undrafted free agent from Stanford who made his career in the NFL by some quickness but more by will. Goodell—white, the son of a former U.S. senator from New York in the Watergate era—started at the bottom in football, as a PR intern with the Jets, and worked his way up the ladder to the top job in the sport. They had that in common … the fact that they worked their way up in the country’s biggest professional game.

 

 “For me,” Baldwin said Sunday night, “the conversation with the commissioner was to find out about the genuineness of the league. I know Roger has a good heart. I believe he has the best of intentions. We didn’t really talk about anything but ourselves—where each other was coming from. This was a conversation for each of us to learn about what was important to the other. It was two men trying to get to know each other better.

 

“This was the first time I’ve gotten a chance to sit down and talk to him. I’m optimistic that we’re on the same page—wanting to do the right thing for the right reasons in society. I think we’re going to be able to do things to bring awareness to things we care so deeply about. I think he does care about the issues the players care about.”

 

I asked if they discussed the anthem, and trying to get 100 percent of the uniformed players (not the 99.2 percent who stood this weekend) to stand.

 

 “He didn’t say anything [about the anthem],” Baldwin said. “But obviously, in any business, you’ve got to be sure you’re paying the bills.”

 

The league’s strategy, clearly, is to get the players to believe that the owners and Goodell are sincere about helping players spread their message—through PSAs, in-game promotions and the kind of off-field strategems like cancer awareness—in a kind of equal partnership the owners and players haven’t had. That’s going to take time. The league, now, runs the cancer and military promotions. The players want a say, and Goodell seems intent on acceding to their wishes.

 

Goodell is smart to not press the anthem issue now, particularly with so few players demonstrating. We’ll see if it works, particularly with so many diverse wishes by so many players. Baldwin’s teammate Michael Bennett, who sits for the anthem, wants Colin Kaepernick to be given a chance to win an NFL roster spot. Baldwin’s ideas, and the ideas of other player leaders like Malcolm Jenkins, are not based on one person. The NFL never thought when Kaepernick began his protests last year that they would come to dominate so many football conversations—and some political ones, at the presidential level. But this is where they are, and though advertisers are likely getting impatient and fan fallout is growing, the NFL won’t be rushing this.

 

Jason LaCanfora of CBSSports.com is another scribe in awe of Goodell’s statesmanship:

 

The level of discourse and cooperation between NFL owners and players coming out of last week’s meeting in New York, and prior get togethers, has been staggering to many involved in the process. While the league and its players still have much to sort out regarding specifics of their work moving forward in how their time and energy will be channeled to civic outreach, there is broad optimism on both sides about the potential for real progress.

 

The NFL and NFLPA are currently planning to begin unveiling more projects and initiatives starting in Week 13, according to league and union sources, as they move closer to adding a full-blown Social Awareness Month to the annual league calendar. Given that nearly half the regular season has already passed, and that the NFL is already committed this month to “A Crucial Catch,” it’s cancer initiative, the roll-out this season will be significant but “not as comprehensive and wide-scale” as what we will see starting in 2018, according to one source. This season’s Social Awareness focus will be on Weeks 13-15, sources said, and will continue into January as well while the playoffs are ongoing.

 

This will encompass the first three weeks of December, leading into Christmas, and the push will then resume in the New Year. It is expected to include PSAs and commercials highlighting the work already being done in the community and ways for fans to get involved to support players and owners moving forward in specific NFL cities. And the league is prepared to make further commitments for 2018, putting this initiative on par with “Salute to Service,” and “A Crucial Catch.”  

 

Conversations with those involved in the process on both sides revealed unprecedented levels of direct dialogue between the sides in the aim of addressing specific societal ills, including criminal justice reform, racism and systematic injustice.  The NFL formally supporting a piece of legislation aimed at criminal justice reform last week is just the first of many tangible outcomes the sides are working towards, league and union sources said.

 

The vigor for these efforts, which was expressed by owners and players publicly after Tuesday’s meeting, has been re-affirmed to me in private conversations this week with both sides noting the overwhelmingly positive engagement between the sides and real optimism for future talks.The owners have expressed a substantial commitment to the players in these talks – of both time and financial resources – and this is a top priority for Roger Goodell.

 

“Whatever you might think their motive is, or if this is a business decision,” said one NFLPA exec, “I can tell you this much – this is not a PR stunt. This is real. The owners have been willing to go in deep and have some uncomfortable conversations with the players, and to see things from the players’ perspective. We’ve never seen anything like this before, and it seems very genuine.

 

“Anyone thinking the league was going to ‘resolve’ protests or the causes the players are advocating for had unrealistic expectations. No league is going to be able to do that. But they are truly engaged on these issues and they seem committed to working with us into the future. You have to give them credit for that. They deserve credit for that. They are willing to really support their players in the community in a way we have never seen before.”

 

Some within the NFLPA contingent remain adamant that Kaepernick be a part of this interplay between owners and players moving forward, which remains to be seen, and both sides will be keenly observing whether the other follows through on their pledges to address these issues at a grassroots level like never before, but given how fractured some of these relationships between labor and management have been, the common ground they have found in recent weeks is being lauded within the ranks.

 

It strikes the DB as a strategy that will earn The Commish and his cohorts good press, but we don’t see anything that will repair the damage done with the fan base.

 

While King seems all in with dialogue and compromise, Donald Trump is not.  Another POTUS Tweet on Monday:

 

@realDonaldTrump

Two dozen NFL players continue to kneel during the National Anthem, showing total disrespect to our Flag & Country. No leadership in NFL!

 

Rest assured, not every owner seems on board with Goodell’s policy of appeasement.  Clarence Hill of the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram:

 

Dallas Cowboys’ Jerry Jones’ hard line stance on the national anthem and his threat to bench any member of his team who disrespects the flag has put him at the center of the issue.

 

Jones, however, doesn’t worry about the critics who say he’s treating his players “like a plantation owner”, which one protester did to his face at the NFL meetings in New York last week.

 

“They don’t know me,” Jones said following Sunday’s 40-10 victory against San Francisco 49ers at Levi’s Stadium. “And I didn’t know them. I am well aware they don’t know me. To the extent that they were frustrated with me, they are wrong. Just wrong.”

 

Jones says critics are wrong with their character assessments and motive assumptions about his anthem stance.

 

For him it’s all about business.

 

He said the league is being damaged by the protests that started with former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick last season. He said the league being damaged image- wise and financially with lower television ratings.

 

And there may be signs that the big new five-year deal for The Commish is meeting some belated resistance, although the NFL is spinning its execution as a mere procedural delay.  Adam Schefter of NFL.com:

 

The debate over NFL player protests during the national anthem has become so big within the league that it has delayed the completion of commissioner Roger Goodell’s contract extension, league sources told ESPN.

 

Goodell’s deal is still expected to be completed and has been papered, sources told ESPN, but the process has been slowed while the overwhelming majority of the NFL’s attention has been diverted to handling the anthem issue, which has affected TV ratings, merchandise sales and the country’s feelings about football.

 

Commissioner Roger Goodell said Wednesday at the NFL owners meetings that while owners believe players should stand during the anthem, their focus is on the underlying issues.

Had the issue not existed, Goodell’s contract might have been completed at last week’s owners meeting in New York, sources said. However, because the issue has become so critical to the league, the NFL’s compensation committee spent about only 20 minutes Wednesday discussing Goodell’s extension, with Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank leading those talks, sources told ESPN.

 

The committee still insists Goodell’s deal will be completed, but there is other business that currently is more pressing.

 

“The anthem issue has overridden everything — and I do mean everything,” one source told ESPN.

 

The focus on the issue has overshadowed other league business as well.

 

At last week’s meetings, owners discussed making a dramatic shift from paper game tickets to all-digital ticketing, which will be in place for the 2018 season, sources told ESPN. The NFL also announced the 2018 draft would be held in Dallas, which will host the first draft held inside a stadium. Neither topic received as much attention as the anthem issue.

 

 

BROADCAST NEWS

Harry Lyles, Jr. of SBNation.com liked watching large portions of Sunday night’s game from the overhead end zone view.

 

Sunday Night Football between the Falcons and Patriots wasn’t the great Super Bowl rematch we were all hoping for. But it did bring us a new viewing experience after a thick fog rolled into Gillette Stadium, leaving the normal broadcast view unwatchable.

 

Instead, we got a Madden-esque view of the game. It allowed viewers to watch plays unfold, and see things from a much better perspective as if you were the quarterback.

 

What a terrible play call that was.

 

Anyway, the view drew great reception on Twitter, with a lot of “how come we don’t get this all the time?”

 

ESPN’s Kevin Seifert did some digging, and the reasons, in short, are as follows:

 

There’s usually only one SkyCam; last night, there were two.

 

The ball is always moving away from the camera at that angle, and there’s limitations to its fly zone.

 

There are two people who operate the SkyCam system: a pilot, and an operator who controls the intricacies of the view, like pan and zoom.

 

While Sunday night’s change in view might not change the viewing experience immediately, it might spark networks to find ways to innovate how the game is delivered.

 

Nowadays, there are so many camera angles available for people to take in their football. The All-22 and High End Zone angles that are posted after games allows for people to see plays unfold and get a view of every player on the field. But those aren’t available live.

 

That’s not to say the All-22 would become the camera angle for games. It’s too far back and most people can’t analyze football like that.

 

But an interest was sparked with last night’s change in viewing experience. TV networks might not be able to deliver on it immediately, but for the networks, broadcasting those primetime games would be foolish to not try to capitalize on adding that to their broadcast.

 

It’s one of those things where just because something has been done a certain way for a long time or forever, doesn’t make it the best way. Seeing a broadcast from the Madden view would be incredible to watch during a Packers game, as we would get a better perspective of what Aaron Rodgers is thinking.

 

But networks need to find a way to make that happen. Otherwise people will find other avenues to watch their football.

 

 

2018 DRAFT

QB SAM DARNOLD hasn’t helped himself much in the eyes of the NFL in 2017.  Chris Trapasso of CBSSports.com says Louisville’s LAMAR JACKSON has moved past him.

 

amar Jackson was good against Florida State, and Sam Darnold was bad against Notre Dame.

Because of those developments — along with some other quarterback-related developments over the past few weeks — I’ve decided it’s time to move the Louisville signal-caller ahead of the USC signal-caller in my quarterback rankings. Darnold has disappointed in three of his last four games and Jackson has performed admirably throwing the ball despite an unfavorable supporting cast and has been tremendous as a runner.

 

They’re two youthful, supremely talented college quarterbacks with stocks headed in opposite directions right now.

 

Here’s a look at the updated stocks of the draft’s top signal-caller prospects. 

 

1. Mason Rudolph, Oklahoma State    Stock Down

OK, I can’t be the only person who thought there was something wrong health-wise with Rudolph against Texas on Saturday, right? Oklahoma State ran the football 51 times in the overtime win. Fifty-one times. A Mike Gundy-coached team ran the ball 51 times in a single game. And coming into this one, Texas had the No. 101 pass defense in the country based on yards per attempt. The Cowboys quarterback left the field for a second in the third quarter only to come back in when a penalty led to Oklahoma State keeping the ball. He did admit to having a “very minor” injury after the game. So there’s that.

 

Rudolph threw his usual strikes at the intermediate level but was uncharacteristically shaky against pressure — two of his offensive linemen were injured — and didn’t hit the big play down the field. The distance between him and the No. 2 quarterback is now razor thin. 

 

2. Josh Rosen, UCLA    Stock Steady

UCLA finally uncovered its run game against Oregon, and it really helped Rosen. The junior quarterback had his most “game-manager” outing of the season — which isn’t a negative, by the way — as he didn’t toss an interception and had two passing touchdowns. His 7.4 yards-per-attempt average wasn’t spectacular but shows decent efficiency. We know Rosen has the tools and can piece together the 400-yard outing in a back-and-forth, high-scoring affair. But more methodical, “clean” games like the one he had in the win over the Ducks will actually help his stock in the long run.

 

3. Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville        Stock Up Slightly

Clearly Lousiville head coach Bobby Petrino knew Florida State would have no answer for Jackson keeping on the read option. The Cardinals repeatedly called the designed run for their electric quarterback. He ended the day with 23 rushing attempts for 178 yards with one score on the ground. He was workmanlike through the air and, as per usual, was hurt by his pass-catchers, who had far too many drops on perfect passes. One occurred on a fourth down in the end zone with the game tied with under six minutes to go in the fourth quarter.

 

Overall, Jackson has made a colossal leap as a passer from where he was in 2016, and he’s gradually improving each week, minus the hiccup against Clemson. Also, Jackson is a rare collegiate quarterback whose rushing ability will almost fully translate to the NFL level. Don’t forget too: he’s only 20 years old.

 

4. Sam Darnold, USC         Stock Down

Darnold is a gamer, no question there. But he’s just not ready for the NFL right now. He could change my mind if he goes on an unbelievable run like he did last year; however, the finer details of playing quarterback elude him right now. And that’s fine. He’s a redshirt sophomore. Darnold had two more turnovers against Notre Dame, and his accuracy was out of sorts, particularly down the field. Most of his 229 yards passing came on yards-after-the-catch scampers by Deontay Burnett and Steven Mitchell Jr. on quick comebacks and screens.

 

Darnold’s shown the capability to create amazing plays outside the structure of the play, but it’s been a few weeks now that he’s been overly antsy inside the pocket, which has led to premature improvisation and sacks.

 

5. Ryan Finley, NC State      Stock Up

Finley and his NC State club were off this weekend and head to South Bend to take on an impressive, well-rounded Fighting Irish team on Saturday. After that: a home contest against Clemson. Huge opportunities await for Finley.

 

6. Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma     Stock Up Slightly

[Mugatu voice] “Baker is so hot right now.” He’s recently been the talk of #DraftTwitter, and with good reason. Mayfield is fresh off a 32-of-41, 410-yard, two-touchdown, one-interception performance. The Oklahoma senior has 19 passing touchdowns and three rushing scores on the season and is averaging a whopping 11.6 yards per attempt. So why is he at No. 6? I just haven’t seen enough “NFL-caliber” throws and plays in general from him. The vast majority of his completions have been to completely wide open receivers, and the Sooners’ offense is predicated on yards after the catch.

 

Occasionally, Mayfield will fire a laser on an out-route toward the sideline — his arm is strong relative to his smaller stature — but those passes are few and far between. The running around is fun to watch, yet I think he’s improvised too much, and currently is more Johnny Manziel than Russell Wilson. Mayfield’s going to be a polarizing prospect over the next few months. The huge game for him is against TCU’s vaunted defense on November 11, which comes after a trip to Stillwater.

 

Honorable Mention: Will Grier, West Virginia

Grier and his talented pass-catchers shredded a young, rebuilding Baylor defense on Saturday in Waco. Five of the former Florida Gator’s 26 completions went for touchdowns, and he accumulated 375 yards passing on the day. When he can stand and survey in the pocket, Grier looks like a mid-round quarterback who throws with assertiveness and impeccable downfield touch. He does have a bad tendency to loft a few prayers off his back foot each game, and he runs hot and cold drifting way from pressure. But the rest of his game is workable.