The Daily Briefing Thursday, October 5, 2017

AROUND THE NFL

 

NFC EAST

 

DALLAS

Clarence Hill in the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram notes similarities between the 2017 edition of QB DAK PRESCOTT and this week’s opponent, AARON RODGERS of the Packers:

 

Dak Prescott didn’t quite steal the R-E-L-A-X response quarterback Aaron Rodgers made famous last year when fans and media were questioning him about the Green Bay Packers’ 4-6 start.

 

But the sentiment was definitely there when the chuckling Dallas Cowboys quarterback met with the media on Wednesday, fittingly before Sunday’s game against Rodgers and the Packers (3-1).

 

Prescott wanted no part of the nitpicking of his or the team’s so-called struggles on offense that are a decided contrast to the success of a year ago when he had the finest season of any rookie quarterback in league history while leading the Cowboys to a 13-3 mark.

 

But at 2-2, Prescott is not oblivious to the fact that it has caused alarm outside of the team’s headquarters at the Star in Frisco.

 

And not just from the criticism, but also the silence on his phone and lack of text messages from friends and family.

 

“When you lose, you don’t get any text messages,” Prescott said with smile. “No love when you lose. You don’t hear anything when you lose.”

 

He added that the scrutiny and nitpicking from the media is part of the job. But there is no panic on the Cowboys.

 

“Y’all are going to do that regardless,” Prescott said of the criticism. “We score 50. We score 100. Y’all are going to find something to nitpick. It doesn’t bother us at all. According to y’all, we need to score more and we need to score every single time we get the ball. That’s our standard too. I’m right there with you.

 

“We are heading the right direction. We have gotten better each and every game. We know what we are doing when we do it the right way. So we know how to get back to that. We are going to do it.”

 

Prescott has an ally and soul mate in Rodgers, who says it’s the quarterback’s job to stay focused and not ride the roller coaster of emotions when things are not going as well. That’s what he did last year and believes Prescott is the right guy calm the tide in Dallas.

 

“Just trust the process,” Rodgers said, when asked about Prescott and the Cowboys. “At 4-6, knowing we had the guys, we just had to execute a little bit better. In this league, the difference between winning and losing is so thin. There are a few plays here and there that go your way. A few plays are the difference in winning and losing those games and changing the momentum in that game and really in your season, like you saw last year with us.

 

“I wouldn’t say that Dak has been struggling at all. I don’t know him that well. But I believe he is a guy that has his head on really solid. He has a great mentality, a great way about him. I’m sure he is going to get things going.”

 

 

PHILADELPHIA

Paul Domowitch of the Philadelphia Daily News says that QB CARSON WENTZ has stepped up his game on the big downs in 2017:

 

Carson Wentz’s overall passing numbers through four games are nothing to write home to North Dakota about.

 

The Eagles quarterback is 16th in passing (90.5), 26th in completion percentage (60.5), 19th in touchdown percentage (4.1) and 16th in yards per attempt (7.2).

 

But where Wentz is making noticeable strides in his development in this, his second season in the NFL, is in the situational aspect of the game, particularly on third down and in the red zone.

 

Wentz is sixth in third-down passing with a 107.2 passer rating, which is more than 40 points better than a year ago, when he finished 28th.

 

He already has thrown as many touchdown passes on third down – three – as he did in 16 starts as a rookie. And his yards-per-attempt average on third down (8.73) is better than every quarterback in the league except Tom Brady (9.05) and Matt Ryan (9.21).

 

He already has thrown five red-zone touchdown passes, which is seven fewer than he threw all of last season. Just seven quarterbacks have more red-zone TD passes than him right now.

 

“In the development of becoming an elite franchise quarterback, that’s something we’ve talked to him about from the start,’’ said Eagles offensive coordinator Frank Reich. “Really, what sets you apart as a quarterback is how you perform in situational football. That’s third down and the red zone. That’s really what separates those elite players.

 

“Becoming a playmaker on third down and in the red zone is a big part of any quarterback’s development. I think Carson takes a lot of pride in that. I think he knows that. I think he studies it a lot. I think he has a lot of confidence in the players he’s throwing to.’’

– – –

Last year, both Wentz and the Eagles struggled on third down and in the red zone. The Eagles finished 20th in third-down efficiency and 24th in red-zone production.

 

The only two quarterbacks who finished with a worse third-down passer rating than Wentz (67.0) last year were Blake Bortles (57.5) and Ryan Fitzpatrick (55.9).

 

Wentz threw 12 red-zone touchdown passes (he only had 16 TD passes) in 87 attempts last year. The only two quarterbacks with at least 60 red-zone attempts who threw fewer were Fitzpatrick (10) and the Chiefs’ Alex Smith (11), both of whom had 24 fewer red-zone attempts than Wentz.

 

Needless to say, improvement on third down and in the red zone were at the top of the offensive “things to do’’ list.

 

“You guys were asking me in training camp what the biggest thing I was focusing on was,’’ Wentz said. “It was situational football.

 

“Coach Reich, coach [Doug] Pederson, [quarterbacks] coach [John] DeFilippo, they were always talking about that.

 

“We’d go back and look at tape from last year, and [they would say], ‘Alright, this is the situation. What could you have done differently?’ Those are things I really took to heart and really focused in on.’’

 

NFC SOUTH

 

CAROLINA

QB CAM NEWTON started by earning the scorn of female members of the media yesterday.  In a clarification, he said he meant to disparage all members of the media. David Newton of ESPN.com:

 

Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton laughed and made light of a female reporter who asked about one of his teammates, saying it was “funny to hear a female” ask the question.

 

Charlotte Observer beat reporter Jourdan Rodrigue asked Newton during Wednesday’s news conference about wide receiver Devin Funchess embracing the physicality of routes and if Newton got enjoyment out of that.

 

Newton responded, “It’s funny to hear a female talk about routes like — it’s funny.”

 

@JourdanRodrigue

I don’t think it’s “funny” to be a female and talk about routes. I think it’s my job.

 

 @SmokeysHowl

Replying to @jjones9 @JourdanRodrigue

While I agree with the sentiment – did anyone talk to/confront Cam about his comment? Why “Try” this via social media?

 

@JourdanRodrigue

I spoke with him after and it was worse. I chose not to share, because I have an actual job to do today and one he will not keep me from.

 

Panthers director of communications Steven Drummond said in a statement that he spoke with Newton and Rodrigue “and I know they had a conversation where he expressed regret for using those words. We strive as a department to make the environment for media comfortable for everyone covering the team.”

 

Rodrigue said in a statement that Newton did not apologize.

 

“This afternoon, I did my job as an NFL beat writer and asked Cam Newton a question about one of his receivers. I was dismayed by his response, which not only belittled me but countless other women before me and beside me who work in similar jobs,” Rodrigue said. “I sought Mr. Newton out as he left the locker room a few minutes later. He did not apologize for his comments.”

 

According to a Charlotte Observer report, Rodrigue asked Newton afterward whether he thought a woman couldn’t understand receiver routes.

 

“Newton said she wasn’t really seeing specific routes when watching the game, she was just seeing if somebody was open,” the Observer reported. “She argued that he didn’t know what she saw nor how hard she had studied football, and that maybe the two of them needed to have a deeper conversation.

 

Newton said that maybe he should have said it was funny to hear ‘reporters’ talk about routes and that, if she actually did know about them, then she knew more than most reporters,” according to the Observer. “Then he gestured toward the locker room, still filled with her colleagues.”

 

Rodrigue, who the Observer reported had introduced herself to Newton last October on her first day with the newspaper, asked him if he knew her name. Newton said he did not, according to the report.

 

“Jourdan Rodrigue, Charlotte Observer,” she said before walking away, according to the report.

 

Mike Persinger, the executive sports editor of the Observer, said Newton’s comments were “unfortunate and out of line.”

 

“The question Jourdan asked during the news conference was a good one, like countless other questions about football strategy and nuance she has asked in the course of doing her job,” Persinger said.

 

In a statement, the NFL said “the comments are just plain wrong and disrespectful to the exceptional female reporters and all journalists. They do not reflect the thinking of the league.”

 

The Association for Women in Sports Media said in a statement that it “is very discouraged by Cam Newton’s disrespectful remarks and actions directed to a female reporter during today’s Carolina Panthers media conference. As a watchdog group, AWSM demands fair treatment and positive workplace environments for women working in sports media.”

 

The Pro Football Writers of America also condemned Newton’s comments, saying in a statement that he “crossed the line.”

 

Jenny Vrentas of TheMMQB.com takes up for Rodrigue and says Newton shouldn’t think what he does is rocket science.

 

Devin Funchess had seven catches last Sunday in Foxborough. Two of them went for touchdowns against a Patriots defense that, last year at least, surrendered the fewest points in the NFL. Cam Newton could have picked any of these plays to highlight at his press conference on Wednesday afternoon, when he was asked a good question by Charlotte Observer reporter Jourdan Rodrigue:

 

Cam, I know you take a lot of pride in seeing your receivers play well. Devin Funchess has seemed to really embrace the physicality of his routes and getting those extra yards. Does that give you a little bit of enjoyment to see him kind of truck-sticking people out there?

 

There were so many examples to choose from. What about Funchess’s first catch of the day? The 6-foot-4, 225-pound receiver was matched up against Malcolm Butler, who is about six inches shorter and 35 pounds lighter. Funchess used this mismatch to his advantage. Running a slant route—a pattern in which the receiver breaks in toward the middle of the field at a 45-degree angle—is the perfect assignment on which to make use of his size. You know what else Funchess did well there? He used a stem in his route—a hard step to the outside with his right foot—that widened Butler, and then he used his hands to cross Butler’s face and get inside. By the time Newton delivered the ball, it was impossible for Butler to defend. Gain of 14 yards.

– – –

Nothing about the exchange was funny. The truth is that most women who work in this field—scratch that, most women in any profession—can share their own stories like this. Once, when I asked a question about how two injuries on the left side of the offensive line would affect the calls in the running game, a veteran back told me, “You’re such a woman when it comes to this.” A columnist, who was standing nearby at the player’s locker, laughed along with him. But it wasn’t a franchise quarterback speaking at a press conference that thousands will see.

 

A Panthers spokesperson said Newton and Rodrigue had a conversation after the press conference in which Cam expressed regret for referencing gender in his response. Observer columnist Scott Fowler quoted Rodrigue as saying that Newton did not apologize, and Rodrigue wrote on her Twitter account, “I spoke with him after and it was worse. I chose not to share, because I have an actual job to do today and one he will not keep me from.” Asked how the organization would address the incident, the spokesperson said that was up to head coach Ron Rivera and interim general manager Marty Hurney, and that he did not want to speak for them. Rivera is married to a former WNBA assistant coach and is the father of a college softball pitcher; Hurney began his career as a journalist asking questions about football things such as routes.

 

There’s only one way to properly address it, and that’s by refusing to excuse sexism. Newton is the face of the franchise, and unless they require him to issue a public apology, the Carolina Panthers will appear to condone a role model in his community demeaning women. After Newton’s pouty press conference following the Super Bowl 50 loss, Rivera came to his defense by saying this is a different generation of athletes. Well, let’s hold him to that same standard here. He is part of a different generation—supposedly one that’s more enlightened, more inclusive and more invested in equality for all.

 

Newton meandered his way to an answer about Funchess being excited to play his hometown Lions this weekend, and having a different preparation level this season, but never really answered Rodrigue’s original question. It was a missed opportunity to praise his teammate after a breakout performance, or to give kudos to his coaches for their game plan that schemed receivers open against the best-prepared team in the NFL. Heck, he could have even used the question to needle the media a bit, as he often does, by making the point that Funchess proved he can run the routes that plenty of pundits have said he couldn’t run.

 

Shoddy route-runner, eh? How do you like him now?

 

Instead, Newton took a football question and turned it into a sexist jab. There was only one professional in that exchange, and it wasn’t the $100 million quarterback.

 

 

NEW ORLEANS

It is a good week for the Saints to be on bye – it looks like Hurricane Nate (now a Tropical Storm) will be hitting New Orleans on Sunday morning.

 

NFC WEST

 

SEATTLE

Coach Pete Carroll doesn’t sound optimistic about the neck injury to DE CLIFF AVRIL.  Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Seahawks coach Pete Carroll created a bit of a stir with Wednesday comments about the status of defensive end Cliff Avril, who suffered a neck injury against the Colts on Sunday night. Regarded by plenty as an indicated that the injury is potentially career-ending, Carroll didn’t quite go that far.

 

Asked whether the injury possibly is long-term in nature, Carroll said: “It could be. Could be, yeah. Like I’m saying, we are going very slowly, making sure that he takes the opportunity to talk to as many people as he needs to talk to so he knows what he’s got and what we need to do with it and we are just going to take care of him and make sure he is well.  If he wants to come back and we want to bring him back, then we will let you know when we know. But right now, we don’t.”

 

The last two sentences are indeed ominous, with the reference to “if he wants to come back and we want to bring him back.” But it still feels a little premature to flag Avril as having a career-ending injury. At a minimum, however, there is cause for concern.

– – –

There are those who say DT MICHAEL BENNETT “lied” about what happened in Vegas.  Albert Breer of TheMMQB.com doesn’t go that far, but he does get Bennett’s lawyer to sort of admit that Bennett’s “racial profiling” claim won’t be part of the attempt to extort money from the City of Las Vegas:

 

I’m not here to tell you what happened on the night of the Mayweather/McGregor fight in Las Vegas. The video evidence presented by Las Vegas police shows Seahawks star Michael Bennett and the police being cordial with one another at the end of their encounter, and it shows why Bennett was seen as a person of interest (he hid, then fled as most others on the screen followed orders to hit the deck in what was believed to be an active shooter situation), and it shows a moment where the police were aggressive with him. There’s also a hole in the video where Bennett was actually taken to the ground, creating enough gray area there for anyone to make all of that say whatever he or she wants it to say.

 

But do people really want more information before making a judgment? This case, like so many others, has become a talking point, one that has the flexibility to fit into a variety of narratives. If you want this to be another example of police brutality against an African-American, then it can be that. If you want this to be a professional athlete lying to make himself a martyr, then you can twist it that way as well. And what seems to be lost in this is that the accusations being heaved around are really heavy. The same way we should be careful before branding players as domestic abusers, we should show caution calling police racist or abusive, because those labels aren’t easily shed, particularly now as part of a very serious, hot-button issue.

 

In the end, our job in the media is to get to the truth, not frame conversations for our own devices, which we’ve seen happen frequently on this story the past few days. If the police used excessive force on Bennett or racially profiled him, then they should be punished. But we should at the very least wait until we have conclusive evidence, one way or the other.

 

For his part, Bennett’s lawyer John Burris told me Wednesday that he hasn’t seen video of the actual takedown, and is doubtful it even exists. Also, Burris was clear on this: “Michael said it was racial profiling, but I do not have to prove that. … It’s not part of my proof issues.” And I did reach out to Bennett, unsuccessfully. It will be interesting to see what Bennett says to the Seattle media later this week.

 

AFC WEST

 

KANSAS CITY

CB MARCUS PETERS is chastised by Coach Andy Reid.  The AP:

 

Chiefs cornerback Marcus Peters had a Monday night to forget.

 

It began with a pregame scuffle with members of the Washington Redskins, continued with the All-Pro cornerback twice getting burned for touchdowns, was lowlighted by a profane interaction with fans and was capped by a bizarre 50-second postgame exchange with reporters.

 

Yes, the Chiefs hope Peters soon forgets. But not before he learns from the experience.

 

“Obviously I had a chance to see what took place and we can’t go in that direction,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said Wednesday, addressing Peters’ antics in a statement but refusing to take questions.

 

“It’s been addressed,” Reid said. “I love the compete in the kid. I appreciate his work ethic and everything else. But as professionals, that’s not something we want to take place.”

 

Peters was beaten first by the Redskins’ Terrelle Pryor for a long touchdown in the opening minutes of the Chiefs’ 29-20 victory. He was beaten again by Ryan Grant midway through the third quarter, and it was after his second lapse that he strode along the home sideline and cursed at the crowd.

 

“That’s never a win, getting into it with fans, home or away,” Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith said in the locker room Wednesday.

 

“And listen, it’s an emotional game. We invest a lot. Marcus is no different, all of us. And certainly if you’re frustrated, of course, probably not a good thing — not a win there — to get into it with fans, especially when you’re frustrated.”

 

Peters, who rarely speaks to reporters during the week, was not in the locker room Wednesday.

 

He spoke volumes after the game, though, telling reporters in front of his locker that “I killed my damn self” by giving up the touchdown catches. He claimed that Pryor pushed off on the first, “but that’s the game of football.” And he ultimately called his performance “hella weak.”

 

“He’s just being himself,” Chiefs defensive tackle Chris Jones said Wednesday. “Coach Reid says, ‘Show your attitude, show who you are.’ That’s Marcus. … If he wants to yell at the crowd, let him do that. It’s part of the game.”

 

Peters also drew the ire of many fans for sitting during the national anthem, something that he’s done regularly since last year, even though he stood with the rest of the Chiefs for a moment of silence to honor the victims of the Las Vegas shooting.

 

Asked whether the message Peters is trying to deliver by sitting has gotten lost amid his antics, Reid replied: “I’m just going to leave it with the statement that I mentioned.”

 

Peters was chosen by the Chiefs in the first round of the 2016 draft after getting kicked off the team at Washington for repeated run-ins with coach Chris Petersen. During his first interviews in Kansas City, he talked about the arrival of his baby boy and how much he had matured.

 

But he’s become a center of controversy during his first two-plus seasons, and many Kansas City fans would like to see him run out of town — despite back-to-back Pro Bowl appearances.

 

AFC NORTH

 

CLEVELAND

Browns fans are hopeful that DE MYLES GARRETT really does know his Spanish.  Mary Kay Cabot in the Cleveland Plain Dealer:

 

Myles Garrett announced Wednesday that he’s ready to roll.

 

But with the style and flair he’s becoming known for, he did it in Spanish.

 

He tweeted “Regrese” which translates to “I am back” in Spanish.”

 

Garrett, who missed the first four games of the season with his high right ankle sprain, practiced Wednesday and is expected to make his NFL debut Sunday against the Jets.

 

At first glance, the DB would have thought it meant, “I’ve regressed”, but what do we know.

 

Apparently, “retrocedio” – which looks like “I’ve returned” is actually “regression” in Espanol.

 

And, hold on, “regresar” can actually mean both a return and a regression!  See definition #4:

 

regresar (dar la vuelta )

 to return ; to backtrack ; to backpedal

 return  verb (returns, returned, returning)

 backtrack  verb (backtracks, backtracked, backtracking)

 backpedal  verb (backpedals, backpedaled, backpedaling)

 

regresar (dar la vuelta ; volver ; tornar )

 to return ; to turn around ; to go back

 return  verb (returns, returned, returning)

 turn around  verb (turns around, turned around, turning around)

 go back  verb (goes back, went back, going back)

 

regresar (volver ; dar la vuelta ; retornar )

 to come back ; to return

 come back  verb (comes back, came back, coming back)

 return  verb (returns, returned, returning)

 

regresar (abreviar ; disminuir ; bajar ; …)

 to decline ; waining ; to regress

 decline  verb (declines, declined, declining)

 waining  verb

 regress  verb (regresses, regressed, regressing)

 

AFC SOUTH

 

HOUSTON

Albert Breer of TheMMQB.com looks at the rapidly ascending QB DESHAUN WATSON:

 

Bill O’Brien didn’t have a moment of enlightenment on Deshaun Watson. He had a series of them. It started back in February, in a hotel suite in Indianapolis during the combine.

 

The Texans coach was just starting his allotted 15 minutes with the two-time Heisman finalist, and wanted to know about a run-pass option play Clemson called on the first possession against Alabama in January. Little did either guy know, the wheels were turning on getting to where we are now, and what we’ve seen go down the past few weeks.

 

 “Before I could even finish the question, he remembered the play. It was a sticks play, and I have the option to throw it to this guy or run it or throw it to that guy,” O’Brien said from his office this week. ”Then I asked, ‘What happened on Play 33 of that game where it was against cover-2?’ And he said, ‘Oh yeah, did the no. 3 guy run a double move?’ I said, ‘yeah’, and he goes, ‘OK, here’s what I was thinking on that.’ It was just impressive.”

 

Not as impressive as Watson’s been in his second and third starts, mind you. The rookie will take the 2-2 Texans into Sunday night’s showdown against the 4-0 Chiefs having thrown for 584 yards and six touchdowns on 47-of-67 (70.1 percent) passing—while effectively compartmentalizing three picks over that time—in his last 120 minutes of football.

 

But for March, it was impressive nonetheless, and it explains why O’Brien didn’t just have some light bulb flicker over his head this summer. He knew from the time the team drafted him that he’d be able to play Watson if he needed. It’s certainly paying off now.

 

“I had a lot of trust in Deshaun from the day he walked in here,” the coach continued. “He’s the type of the guy we want, football meant a lot to him, his teammates meant a lot to him. We knew he was going to put the time in so when he did get his shot, he wasn’t going to look back. He was gonna make mistakes, but he was gonna learn from them and be prepared every day. I always felt a lot of trust in him.”

– – –

Through my conversation with O’Brien—and one in May with GM Rick Smith—I’ve outlined a number of checkpoints over the course of this calendar year that led to O’Brien handing the reins to Watson at halftime of the opener. It started with that February meeting in the Indy hotel room and grewing. Let‘s start with his visit to the team’s facility just ahead of the draft.

 

• April 18: A couple weeks back, as you probably know by now, Watson gave his first game check to three cafeteria workers who were affected by Hurricane Harvey. That came as a surprise to no one in the building, and it was from the start that O’Brien saw a young player capable of leading older guys.

 

“He came into the cafeteria, and all players gravitated to him,” the coach said. “A lot of our guys knew him—[Jadaveon] Clowney, obviously, and DJ Reader knew him. It was cool to see those guys say hello, eat lunch with him. It was interesting. And he was very poised in the meeting room. We’d teach him things, we asked him to teach them back to us, and he was good at that. He was just a good communicator.”

 

• May 1: Watson went home after his introductory press conference with what O’Brien and the Texans call the “basic information section,” which is the foundation of learning on which rookies will build. It runs through the team’s personnel groupings, formations, motions, and calls.

 

“He went home for a couple days and he came back for the rookie minicamp, and he pretty much had that down,” said O’Brien. “If you put him up on the board and said, ‘Put up this formation’, he said, ‘OK, got it.’ And he drew it up on the board. Or ‘what is this defensive front?’ He was able to show us what it was. You could tell he put the time in, and it was impressive.”

 

• May/June: Learning is one thing. Translating it to the field is another. And so after rookie minicamp, the work for Watson was on taking the mental pieces of the game and being able to implement them with veterans all around him. In the time between that first camp and the start of OTAs, he did that.

 

“Once we got to OTAs, he was able to operate at the line of scrimmage, like right away, and operate in the huddle, right away,” O’Brien said. “That’s always an issue with rookie quarterbacks—the play calls are a little longer in the pros. And you could tell through that, it meant a lot to him to get that play call correct, so he could control the huddle. That stood out to me, right away.”

 

• Late June/Early July: The Texans finished their mid-June minicamp and, along with the rest of league, broke for summer. Only Watson didn’t really take much of a break.

 

“I texted him a lot, different questions, whether it was a protection, or a route, or something that had to do with read of a route vs. a certain coverage,” said O’Brien. “I don’t think I texted him every day, but I texted him quite a bit. And it was pretty interesting to me, because it wasn’t ever long until I got an answer. Sometimes, it was, Hey, can you clarify that question, are you talking about this or that?

 

“And it was like, ‘Wow, this guy, he’s on the money with what he’s thinking.’ Sometimes when a guy asks you to clarify a question, you can tell that they really understand what you’re talking about.” That knowledge made Watson more viable going into camp.

 

• Training camp: The Texans’ camp rotations allowed Watson to get reps with plenty of first-teamers, or at least the ones who were healthy. DeAndre Hopkins missed time with a thumb injury, Will Fuller broke his collarbone, and Duane Brown held out. As a result, for Watson, the key was actually what he did without those guys.

 

“No matter who he worked with, first or second team, the ball moved down the field in camp,” O’Brien said. “When we got to the first preseason game in Carolina, I thought he played well, and the second game we scrimmaged New England and played New England and I thought it was getting better, there were things he needed to improve upon, but I didn’t think he took a step back at all.”

 

• September 11: So by Week 1, it’s fair to say Watson’s growing body of work added up to the leash for Savage being pulled to an arm’s length. Savage could not afford to stumble much. And then the Jags held the Texans to 52 yards in the first half of the opener.

 

“We weren’t moving the ball,” O’Brien said “I don’t think that was Tom’s fault. That was a collective effort, coaches and players alike. But I really felt like in my gut at the time, this was the time to make the move. I felt like the kid was ready. He wanted to play. He wanted to be the guy. And so I said, ‘This is what we’re doing and let’s see if we can move the ball.’ First drive he was in, we went down and scored.”

 

Watson then scuffled some in beating Cincinnati four days later. O’Brien said Watson’s struggles were partly about the short week, and part the state of a roster without any tight ends available. But even in that one, he ripped off a 49-yard touchdown run. When I asked if anything has surprised O’Brien about Watson, that run came up: “I don’t think anything surprises me, but I’ll tell you the touchdown run against Cincinnati was a play, for me personally, that I haven’t seen too often.”

 

O’Brien also lauded how Watson tries to involve his teammates on each play in practice. He may pitch the ball on an option even if he doesn’t have to, just to make sure the back knows he’s needed. The coach points to back-shoulder touchdown throws to Ryan Griffin in New England and Fuller against Tennessee as a result of Watson keeping guys after practice to work on timing. Watson’s also taken advantage of having his position coach, Sean Ryan, and his now-backup, Tom Savage, as resources in a way not all young players would.

 

And through those sorts of things, O’Brien knows that while Watson has a ways to go as an NFL quarterback, he’s giving himself every chance to get there. As for whether this solves the Texans’ quarterback problem, which has hovered over O’Brien’s whole tenure, the fourth-year coach was coy. But it’s pretty clear that franchise is in a better spot than it has been.

 

“I don’t look too far into the future,” he said. “I’m focused on Kansas City. But I will say that I love coaching the guy. He’s a very coachable guy, he has good questions, he has good suggestions, he’s easy to talk to. He’s really a great teammate, he does things in practice that shows his teammates that he’s all about winning, that’s all he cares about is trying to help the team win.”

 

This week, the challenge is a little different, with a talented Chiefs defense and a creative coordinator, Bob Sutton, coming to Houston. Maybe this is where one of the inevitable bumps in Watson’s rookie year comes. And that’s OK. Whatever’s ahead, the Texans trust he’ll be able to handle it.

 

 

INDIANAPOLIS

QB ANDREW LUCK is inching closer to a return.  Stephen Holder in the Indianapolis Star:

 

He knew it would be hard. He really did.

 

But try as he might, Andrew Luck couldn’t prepare himself for this.

 

He wasn’t ready for 10 months of waiting and wishing and wondering after his offseason shoulder surgery to repair what he described Wednesday as a posterior labrum tear.

 

“I wish I could wake up tomorrow and the whole thing was a dream,” Luck said in his first public comments since July 29.

 

It’s been something more akin to a nightmare than a dream for the Indianapolis Colts franchise quarterback. But the nightmare is a step closer to conclusion after Luck returned to practice for the first time this season on Wednesday.

 

Luck has a long way to go. He only participated in select portions of practice and spent half the workout with the rehab staff, in accordance with the plan that’s been laid out for him.

 

But make no mistake: This was a significant step, not just a ceremonial one.

 

“It was fun to be back on the field with teammates, put a jersey on and a helmet,” Luck said. “Those little things. I know it’s cliché but you do take those things for granted and then just to put a helmet on, have a jersey with a ’12’ on it and get to go out and warm up with the guys and throw a couple of passes and do some drills in a team setting was fun. And, more importantly, it’s part of me getting back into the swing of things, into being a quarterback.

 

“Into being a quarterback for this team.”

 

The Colts have said all along this would be a multistep process. Luck’s return to practice won’t change that.

 

Wednesday was just the latest stage. Luck practiced on a limited basis, throwing lightly during a warmup period while media was present (reporters are permitted to watch only the first 15 minutes). Then, without media present, Luck was scheduled to participate in the “routes vs. air” period, which involves throwing to receivers — something he hasn’t done until now.

 

But even then, it’s not clear whether Luck really let it rip.

 

This will be carefully monitored. Nothing will be adlibbed.

 

“There’s a pitch count. There’s a number,” coach Chuck Pagano said. “We’ll just keep an eye on it. We’ve got it scripted exactly how many throws he’ll have and then what routes he’ll throw based on each day. Depth of routes, outside breaking routes, outside-the-numbers throws, deep throws down the field – that kind of thing. We’ll just look at it and evaluate every one of them, the docs and trainers will (also) and we’ll take it one day at a time.”

 

 

TENNESSEE

Coach Mike Mularkey said the Titans did not consider signing Colin Kaepernick when QB MARCUS MARIOTA when the latter went down Sunday with a hamstring.  And, as Charean Williams of ProFootballTalk.com reports, Mariota might be able to go on Sunday:

 

It’s a good sign for the Titans that quarterback Marcus Mariota was able to practice Wednesday, even if he was limited.

 

While rookie wide receiver Corey Davis and safety Johnathan Cyprien remain out with hamstring injuries, Mariota was able to do something despite his. The Titans list Mariota as day to day.

 

Matt Cassel would start for the Titans if Mariota can’t play Sunday, and Tennessee signed Brandon Weeden on Tuesday as insurance.

 

Titans coach Mike Mularkey said Mariota either starts or will be inactive against the Dolphins, according to Terry McCormick of titansinsider.com. Mariota will not back up Cassel.

 

Mularkey said the game plan for Mariota “is not as different from the Cassel game plan as people would think,” per McCormick, so the Titans can afford to wait out Mariota’s injury to see how he progresses during the week.

 

AFC EAST

 

NEW ENGLAND

Albert Breer notes that the signing of CB STEPHON GILMORE hasn’t worked out yet:

 

The price tag alone made the Patriots’ signing of Stephon Gilmore seem massively out of character. Four weeks into the ex-Bill’s career, it looks even worse. Now it looks like that out-of-character, top-of-the-market expenditure may have been on a player who really doesn’t fit.

 

Gilmore, to put it lightly, had a rough day at the office last Sunday. Twice late in the second quarter on Sunday, Gilmore and teammate Eric Rowe covered the same man, leaving another Panthers uncovered—first Kelvin Benjamin, who ran free for 43 yards; then Devin Funchess, who scored from 10 yards out. There was also a miscommunication on Panther fullback Fozzy Whitaker’s 28-yard touchdown, where Gilmore followed the motion man and vacated the area where Whitaker ran open.

 

What’s really troubling here is that this isn’t necessarily new. Based on what I’d heard from three sources who were in Buffalo last season, Gilmore had grown a reputation in Buffalo for finger-pointing on plays like these. And as he dealt with a shoulder issue last year, Bills people noticed that he’d started to make what they believed to be business decisions on run plays. His quiet, reserved nature left those questions unanswered, and Buffalo knew coming out of last season that his price tag—based on his talent—would be too rich for its blood. And that’s why the people I talked to were stunned in March when Gilmore, who they viewed as a corner that was probably somewhere between the 11th and 15th best in football, was signed by the Patriots. It wasn’t so much the money as it was a weird match for a team that smartly signed Chris Hogan and Mike Gillislee away from the Bills.

 

Now, Gilmore is talented, and it’s early, and maybe he grows through this. But the early signs seems to signal that some of the confusion out of Buffalo on how this signing came together was warranted.

 

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

BROADCAST NEWS

ABC/Disney CEO (and potential Democrat presidential candidate Bob Iger) explains that he is the reason ESPN’s Jemele Hill appeared to go unpunished for her anti-Trump Twitter rant.  Melody Hahm at YahooSports.com:

 

Last month, SportsCenter anchor Jemele Hill called President Donald Trump a “white supremacist” in a tweet. ESPN released a statement saying Hill’s comments don’t represent the position of the company.

 

At the Vanity Fair New Establishment Summit in Los Angeles, Bob Iger, CEO of ESPN parent Disney (DIS), said he needed to get involved in this instance, and ultimately decided that no action should be taken against Hill.

 

“I felt that we had to take context into account. Context included what was going on in America. What I felt, what we felt, was that there were a lot of people who were outraged, particularly black people. They felt that the promise that was given to them — liberty and justice for all — during the Civil War or Civil Rights movement — were theirs. What they’ve seen in the last couple of months is the opposite,” he said.

 

‘We need to take into account what Jemele and ESPN were feeling’

 

Particularly in the wake of the Charlottesville protests, Iger said it was vital to understand where Hill was coming from, even if he did not condone the message.

 

“It’s not only disappointing, it’s angered them. I’ve never experienced prejudice, certainly not racism. It’s hard for me to understand what it feels like to experience racism. We need to take into account what Jemele and ESPN were feeling during this time,” said Iger.

 

But, he noted that Hill needs to remember that she is an ESPN employee and “she can’t separate herself from that when she speaks publicly or uses Twitter.”

 

The conflict goes beyond Hill, as the tension between Trump and athletes has become a core topic of coverage for the network, says Iger. And, he understands the complicated position that ESPN employees currently find themselves in.

 

“We have a number of people [at ESPN] who have opinions that go beyond just sports. And we try not to infuse that into the coverage. We have not charged them to be more political or be politically leaning. But people on ESPN comment on them and, in some cases, editorialize on them…It would be silly to assume that if you’re covering sports, it would just be the touchdowns, field goals…it’s more than that,” he said.

– – –

The538.com did an on-line study of your searches and proclaims it knows the political leanings of the fans of all 32 teams. 

 

The showdown between President Trump and the NFL over some players’ decision to kneel during the national anthem to protest racial injustice has raised all kinds of important issues. It’s also put the most popular major sports league in the United States in a difficult position. The NFL’s fan base is much more bipartisan than those of other major sports leagues, and it risks angering one side or the other if it mishandles the situation.

 

Pro football is unique in that its fandom stretches across partisan lines. Using Google Trends to measure fan interest for a given media market in the United States, we calculated the percentage of search traffic over the previous five years for each region related to each of the major professional sports leagues (NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL), as well as college football, college basketball and NASCAR. We then compared it to Trump’s vote share in last year’s presidential election in each market. (You can find that data on GitHub here.)

 

Among the sports leagues we considered, the NFL had the most search traffic and the least partisan fan base. There is basically no correlation3 between how Democratic or Republican an area is and how often its residents made NFL-related searches. By comparison, NASCAR has a very Republican fan base, which may explain why its team officials have been outspoken against the NFL protests. The NBA, meanwhile, has a largely left-leaning following, and the responses by its players and coaches have been especially critical of Trump.

 

Making matters more difficult for the NFL is that some teams are based in Democratic areas and others in Republican areas:

 

Of course, not every person in a team’s market actually is a fan of football, and some teams have fan bases that extend well beyond their television market. To quantify the political affiliations of each team’s fan base, we commissioned a SurveyMonkey Audience poll of 2,290 American NFL fans in early September that asked them to list their three favorite teams, as well as the political party with which they identify. Sample sizes ranged from 526 respondents who put the Green Bay Packers in their top three to 41 for the Jacksonville Jaguars; the average margin of error6 was +/- 7 percentage points.

 

Here’s the breakdown of each fan base by party affiliation, according to our poll. Keep in mind that more Americans self-identify as Democrats than Republicans. In our poll, the average team’s fan base is made up of 6 percentage points more Democrats than Republicans. The key is to look at how each team’s fan base compares to the average.

 

Not surprisingly, teams that are located within markets where Trump did his best tended to be the places where there are more Republicans, compared with Democrats:

 

For example, teams based in the Republican-leaning areas of Jacksonville, Florida, and Nashville, Tennessee, have more Republican-leaning fan bases — in terms of the percentage of fans identifying as Republicans minus the percentage identifying as Democrats — than average. (This made the Tennessee players’ decision to not be on the field during last week’s playing of the national anthem especially interesting.) The same goes for the Buffalo Bills and Pittsburgh Steelers, each of whom saw internal friction over their response to Trump. On the other end, Democrats tend to hold their biggest edge among teams based in major metropolitan areas where Clinton did best, like New York, Chicago and the Bay Area, where the Oakland Raiders have been especially active in kneeling during the anthem.

 

There were a few surprises in the data. The New England Patriots, despite being based in the Democratic bastion of Massachusetts, have a fan base that is slightly more Republican than the average team. The reason is that even though New England fans who live in Massachusetts are overwhelmingly Democratic, the Patriots fans who live outside of Massachusetts (of whom there are many) are much more Republican than the average NFL fan. Likewise, much of the fan base for the recently relocated Los Angeles Rams is from outside California, which helps to explain why Ram fans are more Republican than you’d expect given that the team plays in the very anti-Trump Los Angeles market.

 

There was also a major partisan split between the two most popular teams in our poll: the Dallas Cowboys and Green Bay Packers. Unlike the Patriots, both the Cowboys and Packers are based in Trump-friendly areas. (Trump carried the Dallas media market by 12 percentage points; he carried the Green Bay media market by 18 points.) Yet, according to our poll, the Cowboy fan base is far more Republican than the Packer fan base. That may be why Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has tried to remain in Trump’s good graces. The Democratic lean of the Packer fan base may be tied to the fact that the Green Bay area has the smallest television market of any NFL franchise. This means that to become such a well-liked team, the Packers had to pick up a lot of fans outside of Green Bay (only 9 percent of Packer fans are based in Wisconsin). Therefore, it shouldn’t be surprising that the partisan breakdown of the overall Packer fan base is closer to the national average for NFL team fan bases.

 

Arguably, though, the biggest takeaway from our poll is that every team in the NFL has both Democrats and Republicans in their fan base. No matter what teams choose to do during the anthem — they’re probably going to get in some trouble with some portion of their fan base. And as long as Trump keeps up his fight with the NFL, all eyes will continue to be on sidelines before each game.

 

You can see the graph here.  Tampa Bay is a swing market politically, but The538 is claiming Buccaneers fans are the most Republican in the NFL, ahead of Houston.

 

The most Democrat fan base is that of the 49ers, followed by the Lions, Giants and Ravens.

 

 

THE WEDDING CRASHER

Kevin Clark in The Ringer claims that you can find Jerry Rice on weekends crashing weddings left and right:

 

Jerry Rice does not mean to do it. After all, it’s not about him.

 

“I just want to go up to the bride and the groom and congratulate them,” Rice said. “Tell them, ‘Today is your day.’”

 

Those intentions are great and all, but when Jerry Rice crashes a wedding, the story of that wedding becomes, “Uh, Jerry Rice crashed our wedding.”

 

“For some reason, it always turns out that they are so excited,” Rice said. “They want to take pictures, and I’m just happy to take pictures with them. It always turns out to be bigger than that.”

 

Rice is the NFL’s all-time leader in receptions, receiving yards, and touchdowns. Many would say that the former San Francisco 49er and Oakland Raider is the greatest player to ever put on football pads and a helmet. He also happens to be a hall-of-fame wedding crasher.

 

When Larkin and Matt got married last November in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California, Matt was starting to get annoyed. Their reception was at a bar, and the bouncers had already approached him twice to ask if strangers were allowed to join the party.

 

“Then the guy at the door comes a third time and says, ‘You’ve got to come out again,’ and I’m saying, ‘Really?’ So I walked out with him and Jerry Rice is standing there saying, ‘Hey, I’m Jerry,’” Matt said.

 

Rice took about 20 minutes of photos before heading to the dance floor, where he performed a perfect knees-bent, swaying-side-to-side dance to “Blow the Whistle” by Too $hort. “It was surreal,” Matt said. “You’re thinking, ‘No one is going to believe this.’”

 

Jennifer Restani and Chris Johnson would.

 

The pair got married at a golf course in San Ramon, California. After finishing up 18 holes, Rice saw the wedding taking place. (“I pretty much know the wedding schedule at this point,” Rice said.) So he did what he says he always does: He walked over and congratulated everyone.

 

“It’s so exciting to see their reaction. It’s usually, ‘Oh my god, I never thought I’d run into Jerry Rice on my wedding day,’” Rice said.

 

And yes, Restani can confirm that is the typical reaction. When Rice approached the wedding, Restani’s maid of honor pulled him into the bridal suite. She proceeded to take a selfie with him and tell him that the groom was a massive 49ers fan. “Surprisingly, he went right to where the men were,” Restani said, “and he hung out with my husband, his groomsmen, ring bearers, and his parents and took some pictures with them.”

 

The wedding party was excited to say the least.

 

“The best was when my mother-in-law was kissing Jerry Rice,” Restani said. “My husband went over to his dad and said, ‘Dad, mom is kissing Jerry Rice,’ and his dad just nodded and said ‘It’s OK.’”

 

If you’re wondering if Rice does this every Saturday and Sunday, he does not. “Sometimes there are weddings on Friday, too,” he said. He estimates that he crashes at least one wedding per weekend.

 

“I’ve had some brides that start crying,” Rice said. “I tell them, ‘You’re not supposed to be crying for me. Your groom is a different story.’”

 

Restani said that the wedding planner at their venue has an album full of photos of Rice at various wedding parties. (The venue declined to comment.)

 

Rice doesn’t know the first time he crashed a wedding, but it started sometime after he retired from the NFL in 2006. “I’ve done it so many times,” he said.

 

There are two reasons it happens. The first is that he finishes a round of golf at a club or resort where people tend to have weddings. If there’s one happening, as was the case with Restani and Johnson, he’ll always swing by. The second is that he’s on the road for business, and as he did with Larkin and Matt, he happens upon a wedding and decides to see what’s going on.

 

Rice says he typically doesn’t want to stay long because he doesn’t want to be the focus of the day—but again, he is Jerry Rice, so sometimes someone from the wedding party grabs him and there’s not much of a chance of escape. Or there’s good music.

 

“If the music is going, I love music. I don’t mind getting out there, dancing, having a good time,” Rice said. “Because I did Dancing with the Stars, people in the weddings want to dance with me because they think I’m some sort of professional dancer.”

 

 

DVOA RANKINGS

Let’s see where the Ravens (who were 2nd two weeks ago) stand in the DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average) Ratings of FootballOutsiders.com as analyzed by Aaron Schatz:

 

It’s been a topsy-turvy season all over the NFL, but so far everything is coming up aces for Andy Reid and the Kansas City Chiefs. The NFL’s only undefeated team is also No. 1 in DVOA through four weeks, with a huge lead over the rest of the league. Kansas City is at 43.3% DVOA, and no other team is over 30%. Pittsburgh is the highest, at 29.8%.

 

The Chiefs are a strong team, but not historically strong. Now that opponent adjustments have kicked in and boosted the Patriots’ (still last place) defensive DVOA a little bit, no units this year qualify as particularly great or terrible historically. Perhaps the only worthy note along those lines is that the No. 1 Buffalo defense has the worst DVOA ever for a defense ranking No. 1 after four weeks. Still, the Bills were 27th in defensive DVOA last year and are enjoying the wonderful position of first place in the AFC East, so I think they’ll take that.

 

The clearest trend through the first month of 2017 is the colossal gap between the bad teams and the rest of the league. With only one team undefeated and every team showing flaws, it may seem like there are fewer good teams in the NFL than usual. But the opposite is true: suddenly in 2017 the NFL has turned into Lake Wobegon. There are currently 20 teams with above-average DVOA ratings and only 12 teams that are below zero. That’s how bad Indianapolis, Cleveland, and to a lesser extent Miami have been this year. None of them is historically among the worst September teams, but because there are three of them, that’s enough to offset all of the teams sitting with DVOA ratings above zero. In fact, the gap isn’t really 20 positive teams and 12 negative teams; it is really about 24 good or average teams and eight horrendous teams.

 

Dallas, New England, and Oakland are currently 21-23, all teams that were expected to be better this season and probably will be over the rest of the year. No. 24 is the “best winless team,” the Los Angeles Chargers at -5.9% DVOA. And after that, the bottom falls out. There’s a gap of almost 12 percentage points between the Chargers and the New York Jets, who climb to No. 25 this week. By the time we get to the Giants at No. 27, we’re down around -30% DVOA. The teams at the bottom of the league are really, really bad. Of those bottom eight teams, the best offense belongs to the Giants at 22nd and the only defense better than average is Arizona which ranks 12th.

 

Another big trend this year is that the NFC has been far more predictable than the AFC, at least if you were trying to predict with the forecast in Football Outsiders Almanac 2017. Remember, we had the Rams as an average team, so their hot start is less of a surprise in our metrics. However, nobody expected the Patriots or Raiders to be this mediocre through four weeks. Nobody expected Buffalo to play so well. Nobody would have guessed that two AFC South teams would be in the top ten after a month, but both Houston and Jacksonville are up there because of one huge win: Jacksonville over Baltimore in Week 3, and Houston over Tennessee in Week 4.

And so, because the top AFC teams in DVOA are so different from the top AFC teams in our preseason forecast, the DAVE ratings are dominated by NFC teams. Ten of the top 13 teams in DAVE are NFC teams. Pittsburgh and Kansas City are first and second, and the Patriots’ preseason forecast still has them at sixth in DAVE despite being 22nd in DVOA.

 

Here are the straight DVOA ratings – with Cincinnati ahead of Dallas, New England and Oakland?

 

1          KC        43.3%   4-0       

2          PIT       29.8%   3-1       

3          LARM   23.4%   3-1       

4          WAS    23.1%   2-2       

5          DET      21.7%   3-1       

6          BUF      18.4%   3-1       

7          HOU     16.6%   2-2       

8          JAC      14.8%   2-2       

9          NO       13.4%   2-2       

10         MIN      11.2%   2-2       

11         GB       11.0%   3-1       

12         PHI       10.8%   3-1       

13         ATL      10.7%   3-1       

14         DEN     9.2%     3-1       

15         SEA     8.4%     2-2       

16         CAR     6.8%     3-1        ]

17         TEN      3.8%     2-2       

18         BAL      3.7%     2-2       

19         CIN       3.3%     1-3       

20         TB        1.4%     2-1       

21         DAL      -0.2%    2-2       

22         NE        -2.5%    2-2       

23         OAK     -5.9%    2-2       

24         LACH    -5.9%    0-4       

25         NYJ      -17.8%  2-2       

26         ARI       -22.2%  2-2       

27         NYG     -29.5%  0-4       

28         SF        -30.5%  0-4       

29         CHI       -33.0%  1-3       

30         MIA      -41.0%  1-2       

31         IND       -52.1%  1-3       

32         CLE      -54.5%  0-4       

 

And here is how it translates to Super Bowl odds.  Should the Raiders really be that far down and the Rams that far up?

 

Team          SB Win    

PIT             18.8%      

KC              18.6%      

LARM           6.9%      

DET              6.4%      

GB                5.6%      

PHI               4.8%      

ATL              4.4%      

NE                4.4%      

SEA              4.0%      

WAS             3.8%      

BUF              3.3%      

CAR             2.9%      

DAL              2.0%      

DEN             1.7%      

TEN              1.7%      

HOU             1.6%      

JAC              1.6%      

BAL              1.6%      

MIN              1.6%      

NO               1.3%      

TB                  1.2%    

OAK               0.8%    

CIN                 0.6%    

ARI                 0.2%    

NYJ                0.1%    

 

 

Meanwhile, DVOA says the Browns are 50/50 to have the top pick for a second straight year – followed once again by the 49ers:

 

Team   Top Pick          Top 5 Pick

CLE     49.8%                90.5%

SF       17.1%                68.2%

NYG    8.4%                  51.2%

IND      6.0%                  47.0%

CHI      4.5%                  41.0%

LACH  5.0%                  40.0%

MIA     3.8%                  37.4%

NYJ     1.4%                  22.8%

ARI      1.0%                 19.0%

CIN      0.9%                 16.1%