The Daily Briefing Tuesday, October 3, 2017

AROUND THE NFL

 

The line between say 2-2 and 0-4 is mighty tight in the NFL.  Here is this tweet from ESPN Stats & Info:

 

@ESPNStatsInfo 

There are currently four teams with an 0-4 record, but 10 of those 16 combined losses have been by 3 points or fewer.

 

The Chargers have 3 such losses:

 

Wk       Opponent       

1         @Den              L          21-24     -3                                                                  

2         Mia                   L          17-19     -2                                                                  

3         KC                   L           10-24   -14                                                                  

4         Phi                   L          24-26     -2                                                                                                                                                                                          

So do the 49ers:

 

Wk       Opponent       

1          Car                 L           3-23     -20                                                                  

2          @Sea             L          9-12       -3                                                                  

3          LAR                L           39-41     -2                                                                  

4          @Ari               L          15-18     -3                                                                                                                                                      

The Browns and the Giants have each lost two by 3 or less.

 

Meanwhile, the 2-2 Cardinals have yet to win a game in regulation.

 

The 3-1 Eagles have two wins by 3 or less.

 

NFC NORTH

 

CHICAGO

Albert Breer of TheMMQB.com thinks that QB MITCHELL TRUBISKY will do just fine:

 

What’s remarkable about the Bears’ decision to turn to first-round pick Mitch Trubisky, just four games into his rookie season, isn’t that Mike Glennon left the door ajar for this to happen.

 

It’s that Trubisky was in a position to kick it in.

 

And the timeline here will explain what I mean by that. In May, when Trubisky got to Chicago with just 13 college starts on his résumé, he needed to be taught how to take a snap from center and spit a play call out in the huddle. He spent the spring learning that. By the end of summer, the coaches were impressed enough with what they’d seen that they were devising a plan to get him starter reps in the fall.

 

Usually, you don’t do that for a backup—even one who came at the deep investment the Bears made in Trubisky, the second overall pick in the 2017 draft—and that reflects what was obvious to most of us during the preseason, namely that Trubisky hardly looked in over his skis in completing 68 percent of his throws for 364 yards, three touchdowns and no picks in four preseason games.

 

When I asked Trubisky a week into camp about how far he’d come, he answered like this: “It’s so much better than Day 1. Now I’m in the huddle and I can visualize the play as I’m saying it to the guys. And they can tell by the way I’m saying it that I know what I’m doing. And I’ve been rotating centers a lot, so the more reps I can get with them, the better the snaps will be. The more reps the better.”

 

That’s really crux of this, according to the people there: The Bears kept putting more on his plate, and he ate up every one of those tests.

 

Now, this, of course, isn’t just about a rookie getting better. It’s also about Glennon, who certainly had the power to stop this from happening. If Chicago is 3-1 rather than 1-3, it isn’t switching quarterbacks.  Glennon’s 4-5 TD-INT differential, 6.0-yard average per attempt, and 76.9 quarterback rating certainly aren’t deterrents to giving Trubisky valuable game reps and riding out the rookie mistakes he’ll make.

 

The three-year, $45 million free-agent deal Glennon received isn’t what caused a social-media freakout in March. He is the 19th-highest paid QB in the NFL, making much less than Jay Cutler was, and guarantees dictate that this was an easy deal for Chicago to bail from after 2017. Glennon will be paid $16 million this year and is due another $2.5 million guaranteed, which has offset language on it (meaning Chicago’s only on the hook if he doesn’t get that much elsewhere in 2018).

 

Still, he’s the highest-paid player on Chicago’s roster, and so this is a little different from Houston benching Tom Savage. Again, Glennon could’ve prevented this.

 

Then there’s head coach John Fox and his job security. He’s 10-26 in Chicago, with a quarter of his third season in the books. And while he and GM Ryan Pace inherited a mess, there’s no question that Fox needs to show the McCaskey family there’s hope for the future coming out of 2017. There is no better way to do that than to get a rookie quarterback playing well.

 

Which brings us back to Trubisky, who’ll get the 11-day layoff, between last Thursday’s game in Green Bay and next Monday’s home date against the Vikings, to get ready. At the start of the season I had one Bears coach say to me, “It’s like every time out, he does one more thing where you say, ‘That was really good.’”

 

NFC EAST

 

DALLAS

The NFL dreamed that the three judge panel of the Fifth Circuit would smite down the ruling of District Judge Amos Mazzant from the bench on Monday.  Instead, as expected, they held a hearing with questions that cut both ways and took the matter under advisement.

 

A federal appeals court in New Orleans could rule as early as Tuesday on whether Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott must begin serving a six-game suspension because of domestic violence allegations.

– – –

The league said the lawsuit filed by the players union, representing Elliott, should be thrown out because it was improperly filed before an arbitrator ruled in the case.

 

A three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments Monday and they were to review more documents Tuesday morning. They could rule any time after that but offered no timetable.

 

The union argues the lawsuit could be pursued because the arbitration proceedings were complete, except for the final ruling, which went against Elliott.

 

NFL attorney Pratik Shah said the arbitration proceedings, called for in the NFL Players Association collective bargaining agreement with the league, had not been exhausted, so U.S. District Judge Amos Mazzant lacked jurisdiction when he blocked the suspension.

 

Questioned closely by the appeals panel, players association attorney Jeffrey Kessler insisted that the suit was properly before Mazzant, with all but the ruling pending.

 

“You don’t have to wait to be run over,” he told the judges.

 

Also at issue was whether the NFL would be “irreparably harmed” by a court-imposed delay in its disciplinary decision, or whether it would be Elliott who would suffer irreparable harm if forced to immediately serve the suspension.

 

Elliott led the NFL with 1,631 yards rushing. He has 277 yards through four games this season. He has another 118 yards receiving and three touchdowns.

 

Mike Florio, a lawyer, on why he could argue the NFLPA did not jump the gun in filing the appeal before Harold Henderson seemed rubber stamp the NFL’s contention of total power, no matter how arbitrarily and unfairly it may seem to be exercised, conferred by the CBA.

 

Judge Elrod also asked why Elliott and the NFL Players Association didn’t simply wait to file the case in Texas until after the ruling on the internal appeal was announced. Although the answer provided to that question wasn’t mentioned, here’s what I would have said: (1) because the NFL controls the process, the NFL knows when the ruling will be announced, and the NFL can always run to the court of its choosing, filing its own lawsuit before the player ever has a chance to do so, like it did in the Brady case; and (2) the process and the result in Elliott’s case proved that waiting for a ruling was indeed futile, making it proper to file the lawsuit before the internal appeal was final.

 

It’s unclear when the external appeal will be final. The ruling, when it comes, will potentially spark another skirmish that will require further lawyering. Regardless, it’s clear that the league is determined to keep Elliott from playing — even if it plans in the interim to herald his in-game accomplishments on Twitter.

 

 

WASHINGTON

A rib injury is going to sideline CB JOSH NORMAN for a “couple of weeks” per Coach Jay Gruden.

 

NFC SOUTH

 

Gregg Rosenthal of NFL.com notes that if you are 2-2 in one South division you are in last, if you are in the other, you are in first.

 

The best division in football for quarterbacks is bidding to be the best division overall, with a 9-4 record against non-division opponents. The Falcons, Panthers and Bucs all have some warts, but they also all have enough firepower to win in any given week. In the AFC South, a 2-2 record is good enough for first place, with the Jaguars, Texans and Titans all sitting at .500. In the NFC South, having a 2-2 record puts the Saints alone in the cellar.

 

AFC WEST

 

DENVER

Gregg Rosenthal of NFL.com says the Broncos defense has changed more than any unit in the NFL from last year:

 

Identity Change Award: Broncos

 

After ranking 28th against the run last season, the Broncos have given up a total of 95 rushing yards combined on 50 carries to Melvin Gordon, Ezekiel Elliott, LeSean McCoy and Marshawn Lynch. Broncos executive John Elway’s strong offseason starts with the team’s coaching choices and extends to key additions like nose tackle Domata Peko. Releasing safety T.J. Ward to free up playing time for ultra-athletic safety Justin Simmons, who sealed Sunday’s win over Oakland with a Tecmo Bowl-like leaping interception, is the type of unsentimental decision that keeps teams ahead of the curve.

 

While the Broncos’ run defense grows stout, the running attack on offense has flourished. The Broncos have jumped from 27th to third in rushing because of new pieces like rookie left tackle Garett Bolles and free-agent pickups Ronald Leary (guard) and Jamaal Charles (running back). This is a transformed team with a tougher foundation, built better than it was a year ago to withstand the rigors of an NFL season.

 

The DB finds it interesting that the Broncos changed DC’s with Wade Phillips heading to the Rams.  And Phillips seems to be doing fine in LA.

 

 

KANSAS CITY

Here’s what Sean McDonough was alluding to as the Chiefs rumbled to a TD on the final play of Monday night’s game.  Mike Florio:

 

When the Chiefs took a late 23-20 lead over Washington via kicker Harrison Butker‘s 43-yard field goal, four seconds remained on the clock. Prompting some (me) to wonder whether Kansas City could end up regretting giving the road team one last chance to win the game.

 

Others ended up regretting it. And others ended up loving it.

 

The clumsy final-play, Stanford-band effort by Washington quickly disintegrated into a fumble that was recovered by Chiefs linebacker Justin Houston and returned for a touchdown. The extra six points (the Chiefs took a knee on the mandatory try) allowed the Chiefs to win by nine — and to cover the spread.

 

The play also allowed the game to flip from under the total-points prop bet of roughly 48 to over.

 

Sean McDonough of ESPN initially made a sly, Al Michaels-style reference to the development, saying, “This might be meaningful to some.” McDonough then became surprisingly more direct, mentioning the impact of the score on those who wagered on the game “legally,” and he also explained that the officials were insisting on the Chiefs conducting the post-touchdown try before ending the game, due to part to the integrity of the final score as it relates to gambling.

 

It’s one of the most direct references you’ll ever hear during an NFL game as it relates to a topic that typically is regarded as verboten about the NFL’s broadcast partners. But to the extent that the high-level employees at 345 Park Avenue blow a gasket over McDonough’s perceived gaffe, the league needs to remember that it has chosen to move one of its teams to the gambling capital of the world.

 

Even though the Raiders are a few years away from moving to Nevada, Las Vegas and the NFL now have an official relationship, and the league can no longer fairly complain about any indirect or direct references to the primary industry of one of the states in which the league will soon be doing business on a regular basis.

 

Ultimately, the league should be happy that there was no officiating controversy on the last play. If there were, this story would be about how much money changed hands due to a mistake that wasn’t rectified, which happened nearly nine years ago after a Chargers-Steelers game.

– – –

Sean Tomlinson throws the name QB ALEX SMITH into the discussion for 2017 MVP:

 

Long before the Kansas City Chiefs were the NFL’s only remaining undefeated team after four weeks, and long before a thrilling 29-20 Monday night win over the Washington Redskins, there was a question floating around: When will Patrick Mahomes become the Chiefs’ starting quarterback?

 

Initially, it was assumed Mahomes would sit, watch and learn behind Alex Smith for one season, even though Kansas City was deeply invested in him after trading away three high picks to acquire the 22-year-old. Then Mahomes lit up the preseason, showing off his combination of athleticism and a lethal arm.

 

The plan didn’t change, but the leash on Smith may have tightened a little. Mahomes was clearly ready if Smith stumbled, and a franchise that’s desperate to vault over a playoff hump was perhaps preparing to have its patience tested.

 

But now there’s a different problem developing for the Chiefs. It’s the best problem any team could face at the most important position in football.

 

Suddenly on their quarterback depth chart, the Chiefs have a rookie top-10 pick. And ahead of him, they have a veteran who has planted the early seeds for an MVP season.

 

We need to start having that conversation now with the regular season officially at the quarter pole. For a long time, Smith embodied a football cliche that exists only because talent evaluators can crave what’s safe and predictable over taking a risk: He was a game manager.

 

That version of Smith may not have won many games on his own, but he didn’t lose many either. In 2016, Smith threw only 15 touchdown passes (tied for 27th), and averaged a mediocre 233.9 passing yards per game. However, he also threw just eight interceptions (his sixth straight season with single-digit picks), and completed 67.1 percent of his throws.

 

He was the regular-flavored potato chip quarterbacks—the baseline you’re fine with until you see other more appealing options while browsing the QB aisle.

 

The 2017 version of Smith is nearly unrecognizable. He’s always been sneaky mobile, and that hasn’t changed. But now, the quarterback roaming the field for Kansas City is leaving his comfort zone and throwing deep lasers with pinpoint precision.

 

When that refined deep throwing is combined with his natural athleticism, we get  the 37-yard dart Smith sailed perfectly into wide receiver Albert Wilson’s waiting hands. He had to lob the throw over two defenders and still got it there before safety Montae Nicholson arrived.

 

It landed softly and was corralled by Wilson to put the Chiefs in fringe field-goal range during a tie game with 33 seconds left. Then four plays later, rookie kicker Harrison Butker nailed a 43-yarder to maintain the Chiefs’ flawless record one month into the 2017 season.

 

Smith’s deep connection with Wilson on the game-winning drive was his fifth 20-plus-yard completion of the night. That came from a quarterback who averaged 2.6 completions for 20-plus yards over his 15 starts in 2016.

 

He finished with 293 passing yards and a touchdown. But what’s most impressive is how consistent Smith was with his deadly accuracy on the run and facing pressure.

 

He was sacked four times, making pass protection the only sore spot for the Chiefs offense. Smith has now gone down four-plus times in three straight games, and has taken 16 sacks overall.

 

But as Reuben Frank from NBC Sports noted, that pressure didn’t effect Smith prior to Week 4, and he wasn’t disturbed against Washington either:

 

@RoobNBCS

Alex Smith 2017 game-by-game accuracy

80.0% vs. Patriots

75.0% vs. Eagles

76.2% vs. Chargers

73.0% vs. Redskins

 

The league’s best quarterbacks separate themselves with how well they handle pressure. Smith put a bright red check mark beside that box Monday with 130 passing yards and a rating of 133.5 when pressured, according to Pro Football Focus.

 

Accuracy of any kind isn’t new for Smith, but it has usually come because he stays conservative while concentrating on short throws. Now he’s stretching the field. Smith came into Week 4 averaging 9.2 yards per attempt, and finished Monday with a 7.9 per-attempt average.

 

He’s still been careful with the ball, even as the difficulty level and danger associated with his throws are increasing. We’re still waiting on his first interception of 2017 after 121 pass attempts.

 

His speed isn’t new, but he’s able to capitalize on it more often now with defenses having to respect the pass. He ran for 56 yards Monday, including a 32-yard scamper that on its own nearly doubled his total from the first three weeks (32).

 

He’s becoming the answer to Kansas City’s question at quarterback, instead of being the question itself. Of course, it helps to have the support of tight end Travis Kelce (111 yards on seven receptions), and rising rookie running back Kareem Hunt (121 yards from scrimmage).

 

But it’s Smith fitting those deep passes through tight windows. And it’s Smith combining that newfound precision with the deceptive scrambling.

 

It’s also Smith who’s now the glowing offensive centerpiece leading the NFL’s top team.

– – –

Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com agrees that the Chiefs have the MVP, but he has rookie RB KAREEM HUNT in mind:

 

A quarter of the way through his rookie season, Chiefs running back Kareem Hunt is on pace to accomplish things that have never been done in NFL history.

 

Hunt has 502 rushing yards and 157 receiving yards this season, and that total of 659 yards from scrimmage puts him on pace for 2,636 scrimmage yards this season. The NFL record for yards from scrimmage is 2,509, set by Chris Johnson in 2009.

 

Hunt is also on pace for 2,008 rushing yards, which would top Eric Dickerson’s rookie record of 1,808 yards.

 

Hunt is way ahead of the rest of the league in rushing, having topped 500 yards before anyone else even reached 400 yards. Rams running back Todd Gurley is second in the NFL with 362 yards.

 

And Hunt has gained 372 yards just in the second halves of games this year, meaning he has more second-half yards than anyone else has gained in four full games this season.

 

Four games into his career Hunt looks not only like the rookie of the year, but also like the NFL’s MVP.

 

 

THE RAIDERS

It turns out the injury is a bit more significant than “back spasms” for QB DEREK CARR, but it could be worse.  Still, EJ MANUEL starts at QB Sunday against Baltimore.  Paul Gutierrez of ESPN.com:

 

The Oakland Raiders will be without quarterback Derek Carr, as he suffered a transverse process fracture in his back Sunday.

 

Raiders coach Jack Del Rio said Carr’s injury “could be as short as two weeks — it could be longer.” Del Rio added that Carr could be out as many as six weeks.

 

“He said he’s sorry,” Del Rio said of Carr. “Great kid. He’ll bounce back. I told him that the team will take care of business while he’s healing and just get healed up and when he can come back, he’ll come back.”

 

Carr was injured on a sack late in the third quarter of Oakland’s 16-10 loss at the Denver Broncos on Sunday and did not return to the game.

 

After being twisted down awkwardly by Adam Gotsis, Carr grabbed at his lower right back and stayed prone on the ground. After several minutes, he was helped up and walked slowly off the field. After being examined in the blue pop-up tent on the Raiders’ sideline, he walked back to the Oakland locker room.

 

Transverse processes are small projections on the vertebrae where soft tissue attaches, but they have no real role in load-bearing. In football, fractures to transverse processes are not uncommon when there is a direct hit, like a helmet or knee to the back, resulting in bruising and pain at the fracture site.

 

“Pain,” Carr said Sunday, describing what he felt when he went down. “My back didn’t feel too good.”

 

With the big exception of a late, game-killing, INT, Manuel played well in relief on Sunday.  More from Gutierrez:

 

While there is never a good time to lose your franchise quarterback to injury, the Oakland Raiders being without Derek Carr for two to six weeks with a transverse process fracture in his back might not necessarily be a death knell for the Raiders’ season.

 

Now, there is a reason EJ Manuel was a free agent this offseason after being the first quarterback selected in the 2013 draft by the Buffalo Bills. But he has experience to the tune of 29 games and 17 NFL starts.

 

A year ago, after Carr was lost for the season with a broken right fibula in Week 16, the Raiders turned to rookie Connor Cook for a playoff game at the Houston Texans … a week after Cook dressed for an NFL game for the first time.

 

Plus, Manuel played like a vet in relief of Carr in Denver on Sunday and had the Raiders 36 yards and a PAT away from an improbable victory.

 

“There’s some definite positive, encouraging signs that we can build on,” Raiders coach Jack Del Rio said of Manuel on Monday in his weekly media conference. “Obviously, it’s always a big blow to lose a good player, a key player and your quarterback. The good news is he’s not gone for the year … it could be as short as two weeks.

 

“Certainly, the way EJ played [Sunday] was uplifting.”

 

Manuel completed his first eight passes and the Raiders’ offense appeared to run smoother with him at quarterback and fullback Jamize Olawale in the backfield than it did with Carr and running back Marshawn Lynch in Oakland’s eventual 16-10 loss.

 

Manuel had the Raiders at the Broncos’ 36-yard line at the two-minute warning with no timeouts remaining before a false start penalty on receiver Seth Roberts moved Oakland back five yards.

 

Two plays later, Manuel had Amari Cooper open briefly inside the 10-yard line before Denver safety Justin Simmons came over from center field to pick the ball off and seal the game.

 

“I thought he was very poised throughout the time that he played,” Del Rio said of Manuel. “He handled his business. He went through the reads. I think, with the exception of the clock expiring in that environment, that’s the one thing he didn’t get near the repetitions that we got with our starter, obviously. That’s the one thing that I came out of there saying as a coach, ‘OK, I have to have him better prepared for that.'”

 

Manuel finished 11-of-17 passing for 106 yards.

 

“It’s a big hit,” Raiders All-Pro edge rusher Khalil Mack said of Carr going down. “Franchise quarterback. My homeboy. My brother, you know what I’m saying? I know he’s going to be all right but at the same time, it’s about the team and the next guy’s got to be ready. And EJ came in and he did some good things. But unfortunately, it couldn’t put us over the hump.”

 

The Raiders will need Manuel to get the Raiders (2-2) rolling as they prep for three straight home games against the Baltimore Ravens (2-2), Los Angeles Chargers (0-4) and Kansas City Chiefs (3-0).

 

“The poise that he played with, I don’t think the moment was too big for him,” Del Rio said of Manuel. “I thought he was accurate, he made good decisions with the exception of putting that one up late on second down — just check it down there and keep moving the chains.

 

“But overall, I liked the demeanor he played with, I liked the certainty he played with, I like his accuracy.”

 

For the record, the Bills were 6-11 in games started by Manuel between 2013 and ’16, with losses in the last five.  They averaged 21.4 PPG in those starts.

 

The Bills were 24-23 in that span when someone other than Manuel started, scoring 23.3 PPG.

 

AFC NORTH

 

CLEVELAND

Warren Buffett thinks we will have long haul trucks for the long haul going forward.  And so he’s now a big partner with the owner of the Browns.  Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Jimmy Haslam acquired the funds necessary to buy the Browns as a result of the tremendous success of the truck-stop company his father founded in the 1950s. Now, the Haslam family will be selling a large chunk of that company to one of the richest men in the world.

 

Berkshire Hathaway Inc., owned and operated by 87-year-old Warren Buffett, will buy 38.6 percent of Pilot Flying J. The Haslam family will continue to control the company, and Jimmy Haslam will continue to serve as CEO.

 

Come 2023, Buffett’s company will own 80 percent of the company, with the Haslam family keeping 20 percent.

 

“Jimmy Haslam and his team have created an industry leader and a key enabler of the nation’s economy,” Buffett said in the statement, via Bloomberg.com. “We look forward to a partnership that supports the trucking industry for years to come.”

 

“He truly wants us to run the company, wants us to maintain the culture, and of course, if there is an opportunity for us to grow the company substantially, he’s got plenty of capital,” Haslam said in an interview on CNBC, according to Bloomberg. “It’s just a marriage that we thought made a lot of sense.”

 

The transaction represents a public endorsement of the company by one of the most savvy investors in American history, and it confirms that an embarrassing fraud scandal from 2013 has subsided. Haslam was never personally accused of wrongdoing, but the company was rocked by what turned out to be a widespread effort to shortchange customers on rebate arrangements.

 

Buffett’s purchase in no way involves the Browns. Based on Buffett’s track record (and based on the Browns’), some fans may wish that it did.

 

AFC SOUTH

 

HOUSTON

The AFC South has had some conflicted results in the first three weeks with three of the most lopsided games of the year ultimately providing no trend.

 

First, in Week 1, Jacksonville slaughtered Houston, 29-7.

 

Then, in Week 2, it was Tennessee romping past Jacksonville, 37-16.

 

But then, last week, Houstion obliterated Tennessee, 57-14.

 

Paper, rock, scissors.

 

But, at least in Houston’s case, the insertion of DESHAUN WATSON at QB over TOM SAVAGE can explain some of the Texans’ growth.

 

 

INDIANAPOLIS

QB ANDREW LUCK is really making “great progress” says Coach Chuck Pagano.  Scott Horner of the Indy Star:

 

“There’s a possibility” Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck will return to practice this week, coach Chuck Pagano said Monday.

 

“He’s making great progress,” Pagano said on his Monday night radio show. “Everybody has to understand he’s not going to come back out and take all the first-team snaps. We have to integrate him back into practice. It’d be great just to have him out there with his teammates.”

 

Colts General Manager Chris Ballard said he team plans to work Luck back into the practice rotation this week.

 

It appears the Colts will trade centers this week. Pagano reported Deyshawn Bond had a “significant” quad  injury after leaving Sunday’s game on the second snap. Bond has had an MRI.

 

However, the coach said Ryan Kelly is likely to return.

 

“There was no setback” in his recovery from injury, Pagano said. “It’d be good timing if we got him back.”

 

Ballard said Kelly will return.

 

Tight end Jack Doyle suffered a concussion in Sunday’s game and is in the league protocol, Pagano said.

 

 

TENNESSEE

A vague report on the hamstring of QB MARCUS MARIOTA.  Kaleel Weatherly at SBNation.com:

 

Tennessee Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota is considered day to day due to a hamstring injury he suffered in Week 4 loss against the Houston Texans, according to Jim Wyatt of Titans Online.

 

What happened?

 

Down 24-7 in the second quarter, Mariota ran for a 2-yard touchdown to slice Houston’s lead to 24-14. Mariota faked the handoff, saw linebacker Whitney Mercilus streaking toward him, and immediately outran him to the pylon.

 

During that play, however, Mariota injured his hamstring and went into halftime in pain. When Tennessee came out of the tunnel to commence the second half, Mariota stood on the sidelines, and backup quarterback Matt Cassel started for the rest of the game.

 

After the game, Titans head coach Mike Mularkey told Wyatt that Mariota would undergo an MRI on Monday. According to Murlarkey, Mariota wanted to see if he could play with the injured hamstring.

 

“He came out, warmed up and I said to him: ‘I’d like to be smart about it. There’s a lot of football still to go. We have 12 games to go, so let’s be smart about it. I’ll know more about the extent of it (later),” Murlarkey said.

 

Mariota finished the game with 96 passing yards and two interceptions. He also ran the ball four times for 39 yards and two scores. If Mariota isn’t able to play this week, the Titans will have to rely on their defense and rushing attack to win games.

 

What does this mean for the Titans?

 

Mularkey said the team will have a plan in place for both Mariota and Matt Cassel, in case Mariota isn’t able to play. Cassel, Tennessee’s 35-year-old backup quarterback, was just 4 for 10 for 21 yards and two interceptions, including a pick-six, against the Texans.

 

The Titans might be a little concerned about Mariota missing time with another injury. A knee injury cost him four games as a rookie, and he then suffered a fractured fibula late last season and underwent surgery. This hamstring injury could have been much worse, but that’s still three leg injuries for the quarterback in three years.

 

Tennessee is 2-2, currently in a three-way tie atop the AFC South. But the team’s chances of winning take a serious hit without Mariota under center. The good news for the Titans is that they don’t face a team with a winning record until November. And it’s possible that Mariota may not even miss any time.

 

AFC EAST

 

MIAMI

QB JAY CUTLER is showing some candor that would serve him well in a broadcast booth.  Jason Leiser in the Palm Beach Post:

 

The Dolphins’ offensive struggles have grown to the point that two highly secure and confident men, Jay Cutler and Adam Gase, consider themselves humbled.

 

A 20-0 loss to the Saints on Sunday had that effect, especially in the wake of a similar defeat against the Jets the week before. After listening to Gase talk about having no answers for Miami’s offensive woes, Cutler took a serious tone in his post-game press conference.

 

“I think we’re all, on offense, a little humbled, a little embarrassed,” he admitted. “And we feel like we’re better.”

 

Cutler bristled at a question asking about panic over the offense, saying it’s more an issue of frustration.

 

He also insisted the personnel is not the problem.

 

“We’ve got all kinds of individual talent, but individual talent doesn’t mean a whole lot on offense if you’re not working together,” Cutler said.

 

Cutler played well in the opener at Los Angeles, but has struggled since. Over the past two games, when Miami has been outscored 40-6, he’s completed 63.9 percent of his passes, thrown for 384 yards and has one touchdown against two interceptions. He’s been sacked seven times for a total loss of 61 yards.

 

It’s funny that Cutler’s numbers, particularly the 64% completed passes do not scream offensive ineptitude, but the total of six points in two weeks can’t be denied.

 

His coach, Adam Gase, launches a spirited defense recounted here by Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Gase faced further questions about Cutler Monday and didn’t waver from his feeling that there’s no reason to panic. He said criticism of Cutler “drives me nuts” and pointed to issues other than the quarterback that are holding the offense back.

 

“I know where the ball is supposed to go,” Gase said, via the Miami Herald. “I know who is supposed to do what on every play. If we protect him and give him a second to throw the ball, we’ll be all right. If he is going to get hit from start to finish, I don’t care who you put back there. We need to do a better job of protecting him and being where we’re supposed to be. There are somethings footwork wise he is going to better at. He knows where to go with the ball. We’re going to keep working on protecting the football when things break down in the pocket. We can’t just let him take hit after hit after hit after hit and expect him to stand in there. It’s not going to happen.”

 

If the Dolphins had total faith that Matt Moore was the right answer at quarterback, they wouldn’t have signed Cutler away from his broadcasting job after Tannehill was injured this summer so it’s not too surprising that their view remains the same after three weeks. More of the same in the next few weeks will make that view a tougher one to defend, even if Cutler isn’t the only one falling short of expectations in Miami.

 

 

NEW ENGLAND

Gregg Rosenthal of NFL.com:

 

I wish the NFL Films cameras wired Bill Belichick around this season like it did for all of 2009. Behind closed doors, Belichick has to be saltier than a bag of pretzels in the ocean. Fixing this defense is perhaps his greatest challenge since Matt Cassel was his Week 2 starting quarterback.

 

The Patriots are giving up 60 more yards per game than any other NFL defense. After ranking No. 1 in points allowed last season, New England has surrendered more points than every team but the Colts. A lack of pass-rush talent up front and consistent breakdowns in communication in the secondary have plagued the defense four straight weeks. I expect Belichick to make improvements, but the exodus of talent the last few seasons is hard to ignore, with Chandler Jones, Logan Ryan, Jamie Collins, Akiem Hicks and Rob Ninkovich among the departed.

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

ANTHEM
Matthew Futterman of the Wall Street Journal says NFL owners are divided about the combative, anti-Trump, pro-player stance crafted as the NFL’s response by its PR/media advisors:

 

The National Football League’s more muted approach in recent days to responding to attacks from President Donald Trump followed a tense meeting last week in which several owners argued the league’s combative stance was unproductive, according to three people familiar with the meeting.

 

Those owners argued that taking on a sitting president over whether players should be required to stand for the national anthem was bad for business, while others thought the league should continue to stand up to the criticism, these people said.

 

The disagreement is a contrast to the message of unity that NFL owners and players have tried to project over the previous eight days, as Trump took on the league over the protests and repeatedly disparaged the state of the game.

 

There were various demonstrations among players and teams on Sunday but they were fewer in number and generally more subdued than they had been the previous week. League officials also dialed down their criticism of the president in the days leading up to the weekend’s games, even as Trump continued tweeting about the issue.

 

 “We made our point,” said league spokesman Joe Lockhart. “There was no point in responding to every tweet or every statement.”

 

The debate among owners came at a previously scheduled committee meeting in New York. It wasn’t clear how many owners argued the league should be less assertive, or which ones.

 

After Trump reignited the debate over the protests, at a Sept. 22 speech in Alabama in which the president called an NFL player a “son of a bitch” and ripped into owners for not punishing those who demonstrated, the league responded quickly. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell the next day issued a statement supporting the players and Lockhart on Sept. 25 said the league “fundamentally could not disagree more” with Trump. He said the resounding response from players, owners and coaches, many of whom linked arms with kneeling players on the first game day after Trump’s remarks, represented the result of thoughtful discussion and “real locker-room talk.”

 

Regarding Trump’s comments that safety rules had softened the game, Lockhart said last Monday, “These remarks represent someone who is out of touch.”

 

However, multiple owners at the meeting said they needed to avoid the likely repercussions of a lingering feud with the president over an issue that resonated with many fans. While the league didn’t issue a directive and there were no reports of owners forbidding players from protesting, several clubs took steps to reduce tensions in the days that followed the meeting. Detroit Lions players said team owner Martha Ford asked them not to kneel for the anthem, saying she would support causes related to racial injustice in return.

– – –

Ahead of Sunday’s games, Lockhart said the league had made its point that it was unified against the attacks on its personnel. He said no one can question its viability, as well as its value to the country and in local communities.

 

With strong feelings on both sides about how best to deal with Trump, the league decided players could be far more effective in carrying the message forward than he could be.

 

“On Saturday, Sunday and Monday we made clear what our position was,” Lockhart said. “I don’t see some need to validate it Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday.”

 

 

KAEP AND THE COP KILLER

Colin Kaepernick has made a curious choice with one (at least) of his charitable donations to promote responsible social justice.  Paul Mirengoff at PowerLineBlog.com:

 

Colin Kaepernick has received favorable publicity for pledging $1 million in charitable donations. But according to the Washington Times, $25,000 of that money has been donated to an outfit called Assata’s Daughters, which is named after former Black Liberation Army member Assata Shakur.

 

Assata Shakur was convicted of first-degree murder in the 1973 shooting death of New Jersey state trooper Werner Foerster. He was sentenced to life in prison, but staged a jailbreak. Shakur now lives as a fugitive in Cuba.

 

Assata’s Daughters was founded in 2015. Its mission, according to the outfit’s website, is to “develop and train young people, ages 4-19, in the Black queer feminist tradition and in the spirit of Assata.”

 

Thus, Kaepernick is promoting the work of an organization dedicated to training young people in the spirit of a convicted cop killer deemed a “domestic terrorist” by the FBI.

 

Assata was originally a member of the murderous Black Panthers. However, she found them insufficiently militant. Thus, she joined the more radical Black Liberation Army.

 

When she killed Foerster during a stop for a traffic violation, she was already wanted by the police on several felony charges, including bank robbery. She and those in the car with her open-fired on the police. One trooper was wounded and Foerster was killed, execution style, at point blank range.

 

Kaepernick isn’t just a fan of Assata’s Daughters. He’s a fan of Assata Shakur. Recently, he tweeted a birthday greeting to her.

 

This is the man behind the kneel-down movement. Like Assata Shakur, he hates America and he hates the police.

 

That’s his right, and in my view it shouldn’t cost him his job (if that’s what’s happening). But make no mistake: The movement Kaepernick has tried, with some success, to stir up among NFL players should be understood as part of the same subversive anti-American movement he’s backing by donating to Assata Daughters.

 

Kaepernick’s apologists, some of whom defend his kneeling down on the absurd theory that it is “a sign of veneration” for America, are either disingenuous or blind.

 

 

AIKMAN RATINGS

Thru Week 4

 

The Chiefs, after a clolse victory over the Redskins, remain atop the Aikman Combined Ratings compiled by Stats having slightly widened their lead over the Eagles to 7.2 points.  The Broncos have edged ahead of the Lions for 3rd, although just 4.4 points separates 3rd from 9th.

 

The Chiefs continue as season-long leaders in Aikman Offense ahead of the Patriots.  The Rams, who were 32nd in both Aikman Offense and the NFL yards only rankings in 2016, have jumped to 3rd.

 

We do have a new leader on defense as the Lions have moved ahead of the Ravens, Broncos and Bills close behind.

 

In general, the Aikman Ratings correspond well the won-loss records although we have a new team at the bottom of the Aikman Combined in the 1-2 Dolphins.  Miami has fallen points behind any other team in Aikman Offense after scoring just 6 points combined in its last two games.

 

 

Aikman Combined Ratings Through Week 4, 2017

 

                                ——— Aikman ——–       ——- NFL ——–

 Rank  Record   Team             Combined     Off      Def       Off    Def Combined

   1     4-0    Chiefs             172.6    101.8     70.9         2     26     28 

   2     3-1    Eagles             165.0     89.9     75.1         3     24     27 

   3     3-1    Broncos            162.4     82.6     79.8        13      1     14 

   4     3-1    Lions              161.8     80.8     81.0        24     15     39 

   5     3-1    Bills              161.3     81.6     79.8        29      9     38 

   6     2-2    Jaguars            160.3     84.2     76.2        18     11     29 

   7     3-1    Packers            160.0     92.4     67.6        16      6     22 

   8     2-2    Texans             158.4     81.8     76.6        17      5     22 

   9     3-1    Steelers           158.0     81.9     76.1        21      2     23 

  10     2-2    Vikings            158.0     84.2     73.7         6     12     18 

  11     3-1    Falcons            155.8     87.0     68.8         4     13     17 

  12     2-2    Saints             155.7     88.6     67.1         7     28     35 

  13     3-1    Rams               155.2     92.4     62.8         5     27     32 

  14     2-2    Raiders            154.3     82.5     71.8        28     20     48 

  15     2-2    Seahawks           152.8     81.6     71.2        10     14     24 

  16     2-2    Ravens             151.3     71.1     80.2        30     21     51 

  17     2-2    Cowboys            150.7     84.1     66.6        12     18     30 

  18     2-2    Patriots           149.5     96.8     52.8         1     32     33 

  19     3-1    Panthers           148.0     79.1     68.9        22      4     26 

  20     2-1    Buccaneers         147.8     81.5     66.4         9     30     39  

  21     2-2    Redskins           147.3     75.5     71.8         8     10     18 

  22     0-4    Chargers           142.2     79.1     63.1        15     23     38 

  23     1-3    Bengals            141.4     67.0     74.4        27      3     30 

  24     1-3    Colts              140.7     75.3     65.4        31     31     62 

  25     2-2    Titans             139.6     83.4     56.2        14     29     43 

  26     2-2    Jets               138.8     74.2     64.6        20     17     37 

  27     0-4    49ers              138.5     71.3     67.2        25     19     44 

  28     1-3    Bears              137.8     73.4     64.4        23      8     31 

  29     2-2    Cardinals          135.2     67.4     67.8        11      7     18 

  30     0-4    Giants             135.2     73.9     61.3        19     25     44 

  31     0-4    Browns             128.3     68.7     59.6        26     16     42 

  32     1-2    Dolphins           126.8     58.6     68.1        32     22     54 

 

 

 

Aikman Offense Ratings Through Week 4, 2017

 

  Aik     NFL     Team                 AER

   1       2      Chiefs             101.8

   2       1      Patriots            96.8

   3       5      Rams                92.4

   4      16      Packers             92.4

   5       3      Eagles              89.9

   6       7      Saints              88.6

   7       4      Falcons             87.0

   8       6      Vikings             84.2

   9      18      Jaguars             84.2

  10      12      Cowboys             84.1

  11      14      Titans              83.4

  12      13      Broncos             82.6

  13      28      Raiders             82.5

  14      21      Steelers            81.9

  15      17      Texans              81.8

  16      10      Seahawks            81.6

  17      29      Bills               81.6

  18       9      Buccaneers          81.5

  19      24      Lions               80.8

  20      22      Panthers            79.1

  21      15      Chargers            79.1

  22       8      Redskins            75.5

  23      31      Colts               75.3

  24      20      Jets                74.2

  25      19      Giants              73.9

  26      23      Bears               73.4

  27      25      49ers               71.3

  28      30      Ravens              71.1

  29      26      Browns              68.7

  30      11      Cardinals           67.4

  31      27      Bengals             67.0

  32      32      Dolphins            58.6

 

NFL Average                           80.6

 

 

Aikman Defense Ratings Through Week 4, 2017

 

  Aik     NFL     Team                 AER

   1      15      Lions               81.0

   2      21      Ravens              80.2

   3       1      Broncos             79.8

   4       9      Bills               79.8

   5       5      Texans              76.6

   6      11      Jaguars             76.2

   7       2      Steelers            76.1

   8      24      Eagles              75.1

   9       3      Bengals             74.4

  10      12      Vikings             73.7

  11      20      Raiders             71.8

  12      10      Redskins            71.8

  13      14      Seahawks            71.2

  14      26      Chiefs              70.9

  15       4      Panthers            68.9

  16      13      Falcons             68.8

  17      22      Dolphins            68.1

  18       7      Cardinals           67.8

  19       6      Packers             67.6

  20      19      49ers               67.2

  21      28      Saints              67.1

  22      18      Cowboys             66.6

  23      30      Buccaneers          66.4

  24      31      Colts               65.4

  25      17      Jets                64.6

  26       8      Bears               64.4

  27      23      Chargers            63.1

  28      27      Rams                62.8

  29      25      Giants              61.3

  30      16      Browns              59.6

  31      29      Titans              56.2

  32      32      Patriots            52.8

 

NFL Average                           69.4

 

Ratings Courtesy of STATS