Team Notes week 6 2016
NEWS, NOTES, RUMORS AND OTHER GOOD STUFFDirectly from the desk of FlashUpdate Editor Bob Harris. The good; the bad; and yes. ... Even the Bears. There is no better way to jump start your weekend than browsing these always educational -- often irreverent -- team-by-team, Fantasy-specific offerings. ...
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Arizona CardinalsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 12 October 2016
This just in: Arizona needs to get off to better starts offensively in the first quarter.
The Cardinals are the only team in the NFL to not score in the first quarter this season, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Last season, the Cardinals were ninth in first-quarter scoring. By scoring early, it not only jump-starts the offense, but it gives momentum to the defense as well.
According to ESPN.com's Josh Weinfuss, Arizona also has been average on third down, converting 40 percent of its opportunities, which is ranked 16th heading into this weekend's games. In the first quarter, they've converted just 27.8 percent of their first downs, which is ranked 26th in the NFL. They improve to 44.2 percent over the next three quarters, 11th-best in the league.
After halftime, however, the Cardinals get much better on third down, converting 46.9 percent, which is ranked fourth overall in the league.
Still, Arizona is tied for second in the NFL with 14 touchdowns this season. They've scored seven in the second quarter of games and another seven in the second half of games.
The Cardinals' passing game needs to improve as well. They're ranked last in completion percentage, 29th in interceptions and 28th in sacks.
The offense is also ranked 29th in turnovers and 31st in second-half turnovers.
In addition, some of their key contributors are falling short.
Michael Floyd continues to struggle -- he did not have a last catch Thursday -- and head coach Bruce Arians acknowledged that even though Jaron Brown has played well and John Brown has gotten healthy, Floyd's drop in playing time is because of Floyd's problems.
"If Mike was having the type of year I was hoping he would have, he'd be out there a bunch more," Arians said.
Arians said Floyd simply is pressing too much, not making receptions on passes that are "natural, ordinary catches that he makes in his sleep." Floyd was targeted three times against the 49ers. He dropped one pass on the sideline concerned about getting his feet down. A deep shot late was hampered because quarterback Drew Stanton slightly underthrew the pass.
The only way out of it, Arians said, was to keep throwing it Floyd's way and let the receiver know the Cardinals still have confidence in him. The fact Floyd – who has only 12 receptions for 170 yards in five games -- will be a free agent after the season can't be ignored.
"I'm sure that has a lot to do with it," Arians said.
Meanwhile, in case you somehow missed it, David Johnson rushed 27 times for 157 yards and two touchdowns and he also caught three passes for an additional 28 yards in San Francisco. But Arians wanted more.
"He had some deficiencies in this game," Arians said. "He left another hundred yards out there."
It's at least the second or third time that Arians has grumbled about Johnson failing to get more yards and points than he has. No player one has more rushing yards (457) or total scrimmage yards (695) in the NFL than the former third-round pick out of Northern Iowa.
As the Sports Xchange notes, Arians is only half-serious. He knows what a treasure and offensive weapon he has in Johnson, who has rushed for five touchdowns in five weeks.
Indeed, Arians loves Johnson as much as fantasy owners do.
It's not enough to make the pass-happy coach turn his team into a run-first offense, of course. But Johnson's hot start has got to worry opposing defensive coordinators, who can't be sure of what they're going to see from Cardinals from week to week.
Johnson was named NFC Offensive Player of the Week for his efforts in San Francisco.
The next team to face Johnson is the New York Jets, who will visit the Cardinals for a Monday night game on Oct. 17. ...
In a related note. ... Johnson (185 yards) and Larry Fitzgerald (81 yards) combined for 266 of Arizona's 288 total yards from scrimmage (92.4 percent) during Thursday night's win. The duo also combined for all four of the Cardinals' touchdowns.
Through five games, Johnson (695 yards, 5 TDs) and Fitzgerald (366 yards, 5 TDs) have combined for 1,061 of the Cardinals' 1,816 total net yards (58.4 percent) and 10 of the team's 15 touchdowns (66.7 percent).
On the injury front. ... The Cardinals announced on Tuesday that Carson Palmer has been cleared and will take part in a full practice with the team on Wednesday.
Palmer was hurt near the end of Arizona's Week 4 loss to the Rams and placed in the protocol after being evaluated during the game.
The matchup against the Jets is the second of three straight prime time games for the Cardinals, who will host the Seahawks on Sunday night in Week 7. They'll then travel to Carolina in Week 8 for a rematch of last year's NFC title game participants that they hope will go better for Palmer than that January game.
Palmer's return is obviously a positive.
Although Stanton missed on each of his first five pass attempts, he eventually found a rhythm and hooked up twice with Fitzgerald on double moves that went for touchdowns. Stanton wasn't great 11 of 28 for 124 yards but he played smart and didn't have a turnover. Arians said he was pleased with the backup's effort, but noted Stanton rushed his throws early.
Stanton, he said, knew where he wanted to go with the ball but he didn't wait long enough for the play to develop.
A few final items. ... After suffering a left ankle injury in the first half Thursday night, his third lower leg injury of the season, Arizona Cardinals right guard Evan Mathis was placed on injured reserve Saturday.
The Cardinals signed offensive tackle Ulrick John off the Miami Dolphins' practice squad to fill Mathis' roster spot.
The Cardinals also released quarterback Zac Dysert and signed guard/tackle Martin Wallace this week. Wallace was released by the Chicago Bears on Aug. 28. ...
Tight end Hakeem Valles was signed off the practice squad before Thursday night's game because Darren Fells (shoulder) didn't make the trip. An undrafted rookie free agent signed in May, Valles took the roster spot belonging to RB Kerwynn Williams, who was just signed two days earlier.
Williams was re-signed on Tuesday.
QBs: Carson Palmer, Drew Stanton
RBs: David Johnson, Andre Ellington, Stepfan Taylor
WRs: Larry Fitzgerald, John Brown, Michael Floyd, J.J. Nelson
TEs: Jermaine Gresham, Darren Fells, Troy Niklas
Atlanta FalconsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 12 October 2016
Using a steady dose of I-formation runs and short passes that put Denver's linebackers in coverage, the Falcons handed the Super Bowl champs their first loss since Dec. 20 at Pittsburgh.
The Falcons showed the NFL world that their hot start is for real when they outplayed the previously unbeaten Broncos, 23-16.
A week after setting a franchise record with 503 yards passing in a runaway win over Super Bowl 50's other participant, Ryan threw for 267 yards Sunday and only two of those (covering 29 yards) went to Jones.
Last week, Jones became just the sixth 300-yard receiver in NFL annals, not that Denver's "No Fly Zone" defense was impressed. They dismissed that performance as a bad day by the Panthers, and they stifled Jones all afternoon with cornerback Aqib Talib and a two-high safety.
Not that it mattered. The running backs stepped forward to carry the offense as Jones finished with two catches for 29 yards.
Tevin Coleman thrashed through Denver's defense 10 times for 163 yards and a nice 31-yard touchdown grab. Denver's linebackers were no match for Coleman, who had catches of 48 and 49 yards. He caught four passes for 132 yards and ran the ball six times for 31 yards. Starter Devonta Freeman rushed for 88 yards and had 33 yard receiving against Denver.
Freeman had nice touchdown run when the Falcons didn't hesitate to go for it on a fourth-and-goal from the 1. Freeman and Coleman were both close to breaking several big runs.
Coleman, who played despite having sickle cell trait, which can sometimes be exacerbated at altitude, showed off his breakaway speed by catching four passes for 132 yards to go with his 31 yards on six carries.
Ryan's rather modest total included a 31-yard touchdown toss to Coleman.
"The versatility is probably the thing that jumps out to us," head coach Dann Quinn said, noting that running backs, receivers and tight end Jacob Tamme have taken turns as Ryan's favorite target.
As NFL.com's Chris Wesseling suggested, no other team can replicate the NFL's most complementary backfield tandem of Freeman and Coleman, now leading the league with 1,026 yards from scrimmage after accounting for 286 on Sunday.
Although Freeman is the key to the chain-moving ground attack, Coleman's speed and playmaking ability are a nightmare for linebackers in space. Both backs run routes as well as wide receivers, enabling play-caller Kyle Shanahan to take advantage of mismatches while Matt Ryan distributes like an all-star point guard.
Also according to Wesseling, Ryan did nothing to jeopardize his standing in the early MVP discussion. He entered the game leading the NFL in every major passing category. If not for his final pass attempt of the afternoon, he would have broken Denver's streak of 29 consecutive games without allowing a passer rating of 100 or better.
Atlanta, who began this season with a home loss to Tampa Bay, will take a four-game winning streak into this week's game at Seattle.
"We love the style and identity of this year's team and the attitude and style we like to play with," Quinn said.
For Quinn, it is a return to the city where he served as the Seahawks' defensive coordinator under coach Pete Carroll. Quinn was hired by Atlanta before the 2015 season.
The Falcons flew to Seattle following Sunday's win in Denver and will practice at the University of Washington this week. ...
Getting back to Jones. ... NFL.com's Matt Harmon pointed out this week that the star wideout has target totals of eight, five, seven, 15 and six through the first five weeks. From a usage standpoint, one of his games -- that monster Week 4 outing vs. Carolina -- looks like a clear outlier from the rest.
Harmon stressed that Jones is capable of busting out in any game no matter the target load, but we've already seen the floor in two games with Jones playing in this newly constructed distribution. And it is different this season. Jones owns a 24.5 percent of the team targets and averages 8.2 targets per game through five weeks this year. In 2015, he owned a 32.9 percent share and 12.7 targets per game.
Harmon summed up: "The Falcons are winning games; they have little reason to change this. They are getting excellent play from other players, most notably Coleman. The second-year back leads the NFL with 129 yards accumulated when lined up in the slot. ..."
For the record, Jones was limited in Wednesday's practice with knee and shin issues. I'll follow up as needed viat Late-Breaking Update in coming days, but expect Jones to play as usual on Sunday. ...
And finally. ... Tamme recorded his second touchdown of the year to finish off the Falcons first drive of the game.
QBs: Matt Ryan, Matt Schaub
RBs: Devonta Freeman, Tevin Coleman, Terron Ward
WRs: Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu, Taylor Gabriel, Justin Hardy, Eric Weems
TEs: Austin Hooper, Levine Toilolo, Joshua Perkins
Baltimore RavensCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 12 October 2016
For the second time in four years, the Ravens have fired their offensive coordinator during the season in an attempt to jump start a middling offense. The Ravens announced the personnel move Monday morning following the team's 16-10 loss to the Washington Redskins.
The latest victim is former Bears coach Marc Trestman, who took over the Ravens job back in 2015 and crafted the league's 25th-best scoring offense without the services of quarterback Joe Flacco. So far in 2016 with the Pro Bowler under center, Baltimore is 3-2 but only scoring about 19 points per game, or half of what the league-leading Atlanta Falcons are posting. Long-time offensive coordinator and current quarterbacks coach Marty Mornhinweg will take over play-calling duties.
Operating against the league's 29th-ranked defense on Sunday, Baltimore failed to score in the second half after abandoning a running game that worked well before halftime.
Flacco said he was "embarrassed" at the way the offense has played this season.
In 2012, the Ravens fired Cam Cameron in favor of Jim Caldwell and went on to win the Super Bowl.
"After very careful consideration, I have decided to make a change to our offensive coaching staff and have replaced Marc Trestman with Marty Mornhinweg as offensive coordinator for the rest of the season," head coach John Harbaugh said in a statement. "My obligations are to the team, the organization and the fans to be the very best team we can be. ..."
As we've seen over the last few seasons, an in-season coordinator change can be a shot in the arm for a team not living up to its potential. The Lions swapped out Joe Lombardi for Jim Bob Cooter a year ago and saw a marked improvement in quarterback Matt Stafford (even if the positive vibes did not carry over into 2016). This year, the Bills moved from Greg Roman to rising star Anthony Lynn and have gone from 0-2 to 3-2, with wins over the Rams, Patriots and Cardinals on the record.
But as the Sports Xchange notes, the struggles on the offense are just part of the Ravens' issues. Baltimore is also dealing with several key injuries heading into their matchup with the New York Giants in Week 6.
Wide receiver Steve Smith injured an ankle on a 7-yard reception with 2:52 left in the first quarter against Washington and did not return. Right tackle Rick Wagner left the game with a thigh injury. Linebacker C.J. Mosley injured a hamstring late in third quarter. Starting rookie left tackle Ronnie Stanley missed his second straight game with a foot injury, which has disrupted the offensive line.
Smith's status for Week 6 against the New York Giants is uncertain. The veterab receiver was not practicing Wednesday and ESPN.com's Jamison Hensley, appearing on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio on Wednesday morning, told listeners he didn't think Smith would play this week.
Fellow receiver Mike Wallace is also nursing a rib injury and was in a red non-contact jersey at practice.
Baltimore does not want a repeat of last season when it placed 20 players on injured reserve en route to a 5-11 finish.
The overriding concern, though, remains the offense's lack of production and costly errors.
In five games, the Ravens' offense has accumulated 19 penalties eighth most in the league. Many of the infractions have come against the offensive line and wound up stalling potential scoring drives.
After scoring a touchdown on their opening drive, the Ravens were held out of the end zone the rest of the way against the Redskins. Running back Terrance West was able to get reel off several long runs against Washington's 29th-ranked run defense, but he only had six carries in the final three quarters. West still finished with 95 yards on 11 carries.
Flacco, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in 2015, has been sacked 11 times this season. He has thrown for 1,282 yards with five touchdowns and four interceptions.
Flacco's longest completion against the Redskins was for 15 yards. Conversely, West had runs for 27 and 35 yards.
After Sunday's games, Baltimore was ranked 23rd in the NFL with 338.2 yards per game.
Mornhinweg was the offensive coordinator of the Philadelphia Eagles from 2006-12 and the New York Jets from 2013-14.
At times, his play calling has been considered innovative. The well-known "Marty Ball" moniker encompasses both his propensity for the West Coast offense and a high-flying passing attack that has produced some of the best big-play offenses in the league over the past two decades. In Mornhinweg's 15 seasons as a play-caller, his teams have finished in the top 10 in points and yards eight different times.
Now we'll see if the coordinator can jumpstart the Ravens offense. ...
Meanwhile, as NFL.com's Matt Harmon suggested, the coaching change makes it fair to wonder if the passing distribution shakes up in the wake of his departure. Then again, it seemed the impetus of his dismissal was his refusal to ride a red hot running game on Sunday with West limited to just the 11 carries despite averaging over eight yards per attempt.
West is confident a more efficient running attack will lead to victories.
"Everybody sees what we can be," said West, who has 327 yards on 65 carries with a touchdown this season. "We have great players on this team. Like I said before, we just have to put it all together.
As for the pass catcher, Dennis Pitta (74 percent) played ahead of Crockett Gillmore (68 percent) against the Redskins but the two nearly split the target load. Harmon believes Pitta could become more of a fixture with Trestman gone, as he's a Flacco favorite. If Flacco has more of a say in the offense, Harmon not only expects him to look Pitta's way more, but also uncork deep shots to developing former first-rounder, Breshad Perriman. I would expect veteran Mike Wallace to be part of that equation as well. ...
And finally. ... Rookie back Kenneth Dixon made his NFL debut, but he totaled just five yards on his four touches. He did nothing to challenge West for the top role as the team heads into this week's game against the Giants.
QBs: Joe Flacco, Ryan Mallett
RBs: Kenneth Dixon, Terrance West, Javorius Allen, Lorenzo Taliaferro
WRs: Mike Wallace, Breshad Perriman, Kamar Aiken, Steve Smith, Chris Moore
TEs: Dennis Pitta, Crockett Gillmore, Maxx Williams, Nick Boyle
Buffalo BillsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 12 October 2016
As ESPN.com's Mike Rodak notes, three weeks ago, it looked as though the Bills' season was about to go up in flames.
Now? The Bills are on fire. It might be too early to say they're red-hot, but with their 30-19 win Sunday over the Los Angeles Rams, Buffalo has mounted its first three-game winning streak since 2011.
So much for Rex Ryan feeling the heat. At this point, it's full steam ahead for the Bills coach and his team.
This after pulling out of a free fall that saw them start the year with two losses in the first five days of the schedule, which led to Ryan firing offensive coordinator Greg Roman.
Since that decision, the Bills have outscored their opponents by 42 points. But is the offense really any better now that Roman has been fired?
As the Sports Xchange reminded readers, much was made about the paring down of Roman's playbook by new coordinator Anthony Lynn, and that seems to have worked for the rushing attack as the Bills gained 208 yards against Arizona, 134 against the Patriots, and 193 against the Rams in Sunday's 30-19 victory at the Coliseum.
McCoy shredded the s Rams' defense for 8.3 yards per carry on the way to 150 yards rushing Sunday - and he still wasn't impressed.
"There were some plays I missed today," McCoy said. "I could have easily had over 200 yards."
That's a bold statement against a defensive team as good as the Rams, who were missing three injured starters on their vaunted defensive line.
They are doing it with quick-hitting plays between the tackles rather than some of the stretch plays that Roman preferred.
However, the Bills' passing game is in a sad state, and there doesn't seem to be a clear-cut solution to the lack of production. Star wide receiver Sammy Watkins has not played in any of the three victories, and he is now on injured reserve due to his sore, surgically-repaired foot.
Despite being 3-0 without him, the Bills miss him because they simply don't have a playmaker in the receiving corps. Robert Woods scares no one, Marquise Goodwin is rarely a factor despite world-class speed, and Justin Hunter is just learning the playbook. The Bills wideouts caught five passes for 43 yards against the Rams, though Goodwin and Hunter each caught short touchdown passes.
Woods was held to two catches for 26 yards and also had a brutal drop on a quick slant where he was wide open. Tight end Charles Clay had a productive day with five catches for 73 yards including a 29-yarder down the middle that set up Buffalo's first touchdown.
The biggest issue, though, is the man pulling the trigger.
Tyrod Taylor is maddeningly inconsistent, he still lacks accuracy on too many of the simple throws that every NFL quarterback has to make, and at some point it's going to be a big problem for the Bills. Somewhere along the way, a defense is going to shut down running back LeSean McCoy and make Taylor beat them, and you have to wonder if Taylor will be up to it.
For his part, Ryan is not worried about Taylor at all, even though his 124-yard effort against the Rams was only his third-lowest of the season.
"Well, there's a couple of things, a couple of issues with everything out there," Ryan said. "But I believe he is a franchise quarterback. We'll see moving forward. I'm confident, I can tell you that much. There isn't anybody in our locker room who doesn't believe in Tyrod."
And Taylor remains a marvelous athlete who makes plays as a scrambler and runner that very few quarterbacks can pull off. But imagine how dangerous this offense could be if they could threaten opponents deep.
The good news?
The 3-2 Bills have a chance to sustain and perhaps improve on their success against the San Francisco 49ers and Miami Dolphins, both 1-4, over the next two weeks. A four-game winning streak would be their first since 2008, and a string of five consecutive victories would be their first since 2005.
Worth noting: The Bills led the NFL in rushing last season at 152 yards per game, and they are starting to find their groove this year after a 193-yard output against the Rams, keyed by McCoy's 150 yards.
McCoy had a 53-yard run in the second quarter, his longest since joining the Bills. It set up a Mike Gillislee touchdown. And he had a huge 24-yard run in the fourth quarter which set up the final touchdown, a pass reception by Marquise Goodwin.
"Stats-wise, yeah," McCoy said when asked if this was his best game as a Bill. "But there were some plays I missed today. I could have easily had over 200 yards. Just small things -- I get so wrapped up in just trying to make too many plays. Sometimes you do things and make it harder on yourself when you don't have to. There were some plays I should have just ran it and picked up 10, 15 yards."
During the game, McCoy became just the sixth active running back to reach 8,000 career rushing yards, and he now has 28 career 100-yard games.
And finally this week, in yet more postive news for the Bill, Dr. Robert Anderson recommended that wide receiver Sammy Watkins did not need surgery on his injured foot. According to NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport, that means Watkins is in line for a late-season return in 2016.
As NFL Network's Mike Garafolo adds, Anderson's diagnosis confirms what Buffalo had hoped and expected all along. Watkins' foot was sound structurally. Now, they just want him at 100 percent before rushing him onto the field again.
It is possible Watkins returns to a very different Buffalo offense than the one he left a few weeks ago. It's also possible it is the most efficient offense he's seen in his short time in the NFL.
QBs: Tyrod Taylor, E.J. Manuel, Cardale Jones
RBs: LeSean McCoy, Mike Gillislee, Reggie Bush, Jonathan Williams
WRs: Sammy Watkins, Justin Hunter, Marquise Goodwin, Percy Harvin, Brandon Tate, Dezmin Lewis, Robert Woods
TEs: Charles Clay, Jim Dray, Nick O'Leary
Carolina PanthersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 12 October 2016
As Profootballtalk.com's Darin Gantt reminded readers, all offseason, head coach Ron Rivera and his cast of older, wiser players talked about the importance of forgetting last year.
As they reported to training camp, tight end Greg Olsen even warned of the danger of not focusing week-to-week, and said: "This is too hard to come out and just half-ass and find ourselves 1-4 asking, ‘What's going on?'
As it turns out, Olsen was a prophet, and the Panthers are 1-4, and a lot of people are wondering "What's going on?"
The Panthers went from 15-1 to 1-4 in a hurry, losing to the Buccaneers last night in embarrassing fashion — turning the ball over four times, letting an unheralded third-string runner (Jacquizz Rodgers) go for 101 rushing yards and a kicker who doesn't make kicks (Roberto Aguayo) to hit the game-winner as time expired.
"We told you guys what happened the year before has nothing to do with this year," Olsen told Joe Person of the Charlotte Observer. "We've been saying that since the day after the Super Bowl. That's the reality of it. It's unfortunate we had to learn it by being 1-4, but that's the way this league goes.
"You're not promised anything in this league. No one's going to roll over because of what you've done in the past. You've got to earn everything. And right now we're not earning anything."
The Panthers were trying to right themselves without MVP Cam Newton, who was out with a concussion. Backup Derek Anderson threw two picks and fumbled, ruining the fact he found Olsen nine times for 181 yards. But trying to force one to him on a first-and-goal in the fourth quarter resulted in an interception, and their defense couldn't stop the Bucs from driving.
Veteran defensive end Charles Johnson said it was "very shocking" to be 1-4 heading into New Orleans, but said the onus was on them.
"It's going to take a lot of hard work and dedication. A lot of people are going to have to have a gut check," Johnson said. "We've just got to put some wins together."
Of course, as Gantt added, there's also a case of regression to the mean at work, as the 15-1 record last year only got them to 166-169-1 as a franchise, so swinging from a good year to something less than good shouldn't come as a huge surprise.
According to ESPN Stats & Info, the Panthers now have a 7 percent chance of making the playoffs. The most recent time the Panthers started a season 1-3 was in 2013. They gambled on fourth-and-1 twice early at Minnesota to score and start an eight-game win streak. Rivera earned the nickname "Riverboat Ron."
The Panthers used that same aggressive play calling on their first drive of the second half Monday, after a dreadful first half in which they ran only 20 plays, their fewest since the first half of a 2011 Week 5 game against New Orleans. On the drive, a fourth-and-goal, 1-yard touchdown run by Cameron Artis-Payne gave Carolina a 7-6 lead after the Panthers had been dominated to that point. They stretched the lead to 14-6 on Artis-Payne's second touchdown run and seemed ready to pull away.
But unlike in the Minnesota game three years ago, the Panthers weren't good enough to keep the momentum.
Olsen was the lone bright spot for the Panthers in this game. He caught nine passes for a career-best 181 yards. But it wasn't nearly enough.
Fortunately for the Panthers, help is on the way.
Rivera told ESPN sideline reporter Lisa Salters before the game that Newton participated in some football-specific drills Monday – a sign that Newton continues to progress in the concussion protocol.
Newton missed the third game of his NFL career after he was drilled by Falcons linebacker Deion Jones on a successful 2-point conversion last weekend in Atlanta.
Rivera said after the game that the team would re-evaluate Newton on Tuesday morning.
"We'll find out," Rivera said. "He is going through the protocol."
Panthers players had Tuesday off – as mandated under the collective bargaining agreement – before beginning preparations for New Orleans on Wednesday and Newton was on the field for that workout putting him on track to start Wednesday.
The Panthers also could be getting running back Jonathan Stewart back. Stewart, who has missed the past three games with a hamstring injury, worked out on the field before the game.
But it'll take more than that. As ESPN.com's David Newton summed up: "The defense that dominated at times a year ago isn't close to that level. The offense that led the league in scoring a year ago is not running on all cylinders.
"The season is slipping away after the Panthers let a game they had to win slip away. ..."
A few final notes here. ... Artis-Payne set career highs with 18 rushing attempts for 85 yards and two touchdowns.
Olsen had nine receptions for 181 receiving yards, a career high and tied for the sixth-most by a Panthers player in a single game.
QBs: Cam Newton, Derek Anderson, Joe Webb
RBs: Cameron Artis-Payne, Fozzy Whittaker, Mike Tolbert, Jonathan Stewart
WRs: Kelvin Benjamin, Devin Funchess, Ted Ginn, corey Brown, Brenton Bersin, Damiere Byrd
TEs: Greg Olsen, Ed Dickson, Scott Simonson
Chicago BearsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 12 October 2016
Brian Hoyer's three straight 300-yard passing efforts suggest the quarterback position for the Bears is in good hands until quarterback Jay Cutler returns from a thumb sprain -- and perhaps even beyond Cutler's return to health.
Inconsistency in other areas continues to plague the Bears (1-4) following their 29-23 loss Sunday at Indianapolis.
But Hoyer's season passer rating climbed to 108.5 against the Colts, though he missed seeing wide receiver Alshon Jeffery open in the end zone on the Bears' final offensive play, an incompletion. The Bears offense produced 522 yards, its most for a game since Mike Ditka's 1989 team. But the offense sputtered in the red zone with one touchdown in three tries.
Still, Meredith looked better than White has at any point this season and he scored 14-yard touchdown in the second quarter when he ran a stop-and-go that froze Colts cornerback Patrick Robinson.
As Chicago Tribune staff writer Brad Biggs noted, fantasy football players have been banging the drum for Jeffery with the belief that the ball isn't going his direction enough. He was targeted six times and caught five passes for 77 yards, including a 38-yard deep shot late in the third quarter.
Jeffery did not want to engage when Biggs asked him if Cutler does a better job of getting him the ball than Hoyer.
"All I know is we didn't win the game," he said. "I am not concerned about who gets me the ball more or none of that. We didn't win the game. That's all that matters."
Jeffery was only targeted five times the week before against the Lions and it's worth remembering he hasn't been at 100 percent dealing with knee and hamstring injuries.
Jeffery's lack of targets aside, the big question in Chicago is why go back to Cutler even if he's ready to return?
On Monday, Fox wouldn't confirm Hoyer as the starter against the Jaguars. Nor could he forecast when Cutler would be available.
After 3 1/2 games, it would seem a date for Cutler's return might be just as difficult to predict.
"It's like what's the weather going to be tomorrow?" Fox said. "Moving forward, I can't predict the future."
But it's hard to imagine the Bears changing course at this point.
As ESPN.com's Jeff Dickerson reminded readers, Hoyer is the same quarterback who threw four interceptions in an AFC playoff game last year. But unless Hoyer bottoms out in similar fashion, Dickerson believes the Bears will stick with him over Cutler, who should be medically cleared soon.
"The Bears' coaching staff is too experienced to disrupt the momentum," Dickerson wrote. "Putting Cutler back in there makes no sense."
The team is clearly behind Hoyer, so Fox needs to let it ride, for now.
Except for the unforeseen disappearance of Jeffery until the fourth-quarter -- Jeffery's targets and production have gone down in recent weeks -- the Bears' offense is working as designed. That's in large part to Hoyer, rookie rusher Jordan Howard, sturdy pass protection and the improved play calling of coordinator Dowell Loggains, who scripted a nice game plan for the Colts' defense.
Compare that to how disjointed the Bears' offense looked against Houston, Philadelphia and in the first half at Dallas. Although the Bears are now 1-4, Jacksonville (1-3) at home represents another winnable game this Sunday.
Hoyer deserves credit for helping to stabilize the situation.
Hoyer might not be the future, but he has proved to be the best current option to run the offense. Going back to Cutler would only stunt the growth the Bears have experienced since their dreadful 0-3 start. ...
For the record, Cutler was not throwing on Wednesday. In addition, Eddie Royal (calf) and Zach Miller (ribs), both of whom played through their respective injuries in Indianapolis, were not practicing Wednesday. I'll follow up via Late-Breaking Update as needed. ...
Also worth noting. ... The Bears put their offense on Jordan Howard's back (he dominated 95 percent of the snaps) and he took advantage of a bad Colts run defense in this game. As NFL.com's Matt Franciscovich noted, the big rookie roasted Indy's defense for 163 total yards and a score.
With two consecutive 100-yard rushing games, Franciscovich advised readers that Howard is making a push to be the team's primary back even when Jeremy Langford returns from an ankle injury.
Langford was inactive against Indianapolis for the second straight game. He could miss another month. Ka'Deem Carey (hamstring) played for the first time since the Philadelphia game on Sept. 19. Carey had 17 total yards on one run and one reception vs. Indy. ...
Fox defended Barth on Monday.
"Connor will be the first to tell you that we want to make all of them," Fox said. "Whether they're extra points or field goals, they just count different but similar kicks. He knows he needs to make kicks and we've got to go about doing better at that moving forward."
And finally. ... According to the Chicago Tribune, White will likely undergo surgery on his left leg in the very near future to repair the spiral fracture of the fibula he suffered last week as a result of a severe high ankle sprain. The hope is that White will be able to return before the season is over and because he was placed on injured reserve, the earliest he could possibly return is Week 13 for the Dec. 4 game against the 49ers at Soldier Field.
QBs: Matt Barkley, David Fales, Jay Cutler
RBs: Jordan Howard, Jeremy Langford, Ka'Deem Carey, Joique Bell, Raheem Mostert
WRs: Marquess Wilson, Eddie Royal, Cameron Meredith, Josh Bellamy, Deonte Thompson, Alshon Jeffery
TEs: Greg Scruggs, Logan Paulsen
Cincinnati BengalsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 12 October 2016
As ESPN.com's Katherine Terrell suggested, by the time the Bengals get tight end Tyler Eifert back, it might be too late.
This team's problems run far beyond the absence of its leading scorer from the past season. It might be a total team effort.
The first three quarters of the Bengals' 28-14 loss to the Dallas Cowboys could safely be called their worst performance in several years. Their only saving graces Sunday were two fourth-quarter touchdowns that made the game appear closer than it was. Dallas (4-1) was completely in control Sunday.
Don't expect it to get better from here. Up next: the New England Patriots and quarterback Tom Brady at Gillette Stadium.
The Bengals (2-3) essentially suffered a collapse in every phase against the Cowboys.
The Bengals struggled to run the ball again and essentially gave up trying after going down 21-0 in the first half. It didn't help that Jeremy Hill left the game in the third quarter with a chest injury, the same ailment that landed him on the injury report this week. Hill had only four carries for 12 yards.
The Bengals also continued a troubling pattern that has essentially determined the outcome of every game this season: Shut down Green, and shut down the Bengals' offense.
The Cowboys, specifically cornerback Morris Claiborne, were able to contain A.J. Green for most of the day. Besides Brandon LaFell's late touchdowns, the Bengals couldn't get much of anything going on offense without Green. It was the same pattern that aided in losses to the Pittsburgh Steelers and Denver Broncos.
According to Terrell, it's a pattern that's likely to continue, with or without Eifert on the field. With a matchup against Brady and the Patriots looming, the Bengals' season could be in trouble.
The Bengals spent Monday re-watching the game at Dallas, with no more insight as to why so much went so wrong. "There was not a lot to be happy about," head coach Marvin Lewis said.
The Bengals are at a crossroads. The defending AFC North champions already trail Pittsburgh (4-1) by two games and Baltimore (3-2) by one. The previous time they started 2-4, the Bengals ended up at 4-12.
Looking for positives? Andy Dalton continues to perform admirably. He passed for 269 yards on Sunday despite being sacked four times and scrambling away from pressure on several occasions. Under first-year coordinator Ken Zampese, the Bengals' identity on offense remains a fluid consideration.
"(Dallas) got us in longer situations on third down, and we weren't able to move the ball," Dalton said. "This is a team that is really sound with the kind of defense that they play. They took some things away, and we weren't able to overcome that. ..."
As Profootballtalk.com suggested, the offense may be under particular pressure to come together for a better performance this weekend. The Bengals will be in New England for Tom Brady's first post-suspension home game and history says he'll be shooting for the same kind of big numbers in that spot that he got in Cleveland last Sunday. ...
Other notes of interest. ... In a surprising twist, Giovani Bernard started over Hill. As NFL.com's Matt Franciscovich noted this week, the Bengals backfield heading into this game had been, for the most part, ineffective this season with the team averaging 3.1 yards per carry (30th in the NFL).
Bernard did what he does best, and was efficient on the ground and through the air for 96 yards from scrimmage on his 15 touches. Hill only had four touches, as the Bengals were playing from behind almost the entire game. Against the Patriots, Franciscovich expects another Bernard-friendly game script.
For the record, Hill said on Monday that was fine. He landed on a shoulder that was already sore from a play that occurred against the Dolphins the previous Thursday, when 335-pound defensive tackle Jordan Phillips landed on top of him. He was still feeling the effects going into the Cowboys game, and he received limited snaps as a result. Hill played only 15 snaps in Dallas.
"It's not serious, but he did land on a sore spot. He'll be ready to go on Wednesday," Lewis said.
Meanwhile, ESPN's Adam Schefter reported on Sunday that the Bengals believe Eifert (ankle, back) has a "chance" to return against the Patriots. Eifert's surgically-repaired ankle is apparently good to go, it's the back injury he suffered last Monday that sidelined him in Dallas.
Hill was practicing Wednesday. Eifert was not. Green (calf) was also held out Wednesday. Tight end C.J. Uzomah (ankle) was limited.
I'll have more on all four players via Late-Breaking Update as the week progresses.
QBs: Andy Dalton, AJ McCarron, Jeff Driskel
RBs: Jeremy Hill, Rex Burkhead, Cedric Peerman
WRs: Brandon LaFell, Tyler Boyd, James Wright, Cody Core, Alex Erickson, A.J. Green
TEs: Tyler Eifert, C.J. Uzomah, Ryan Hewitt, Tyler Kroft
Cleveland BrownsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 12 October 2016
According to the Sports Xchange, it might take all week for head coach Hue Jackson to decide on a starting quarterback for Sunday's game against the Tennessee Titans.
Every quarterback on his 53-man roster went into the week injured to varying degrees, but one of them left.
The Browns announced Tuesday they cut Charlie Whitehurst with an injury settlement. The team elevated rookie quarterback Kevin Hogan from the practice squad.
Cody Kessler started at quarterback on Sunday in the 33-13 loss to the Patriots but was injured with 1:26 to play in the first quarter when he was hit by Patriots linebacker Dont'a Hightower while trying to throw a screen pass.
He was diagnosed with rib and chest injuries. X-rays were negative, but he could not continue after completing five of eight passes for 62 yards and a touchdown.
Robert Griffin III is on injured reserve with a broken bone in his left shoulder. Josh McCown is coming off a broken collarbone. Whitehurst replaced Kessler against the Patriots and suffered a hyper-extended knee late in the game.
"Cody obviously will be day-to-day," Jackson said Monday. "There is nothing broken. There's a good chance that he will have an opportunity to be out there this week. We'll work through that."
The Cleveland Plain Dealer's Mary Kay Cabot reported Kessler "appeared to be in significant pain" Monday. But the rookie told reporters on Wednesday he planned to get in some practice time and his plan is to be ready to start Sunday.
McCown has been cleared to practice and could be in uniform against the Titans. The 37-year-old McCown wants to play after spending the past three weeks watching his teammates come up short.
"Josh McCown will have an opportunity to practice this week," Jackson said. "We'll know more about where he is as we go through the week, but he definitely will have a chance to go out there and practice. That's encouraging."
Officially, both QBs were listed as limited participants on Wednesday.
As Associated Press sports writer Tom Withers suggested, if Kessler and McCown are both ready, Jackson's decision gets more complicated.
Does he go with Kessler, who has shown growth in three starts and could develop into the team's long-term answer at QB? Or does he return to McCown, the steady veteran and leader who has endeared himself to teammates and may give the Browns their best chance to win?
Jackson must wait to see how both players practice before he decides.
McCown's return to practice is a needed positive jolt for the young and winless Browns, who until Sunday's blowout have been in every game.
"It's big," center John Greco said of the QB's return. "I know Josh. I'm sure he wanted to play that following week.
"But now that he's got some rest it'll be good to have his leadership out there with us actually on the field. He's out there as a vocal leader, but his physical presence is huge for this team and if he's out there it's awesome for us."
Also on the injury front, tight end Gary Barnidge (forearm) was also limited Wednesday.
I'll be following up on Kessler, McCown and Barnidge via Late-Breaking Update as the week progresses. ...
Also of interest. ... The Browns had an NFL-high average of 149 rushing yards per game after four games. They were held to 27 yards by the Patriots. Isaiah Crowell averaged 1.7 yards per carry on 13 carries. He began the game with a 6.4-yard rushing average. Crowell was limited to just 40 total yards on 14 touches while Duke Johnson had just 22 total yards.
"They loaded up to stop it," Jackson said. "We have to do better. I was disappointed because I think we can do it a little bit better than what we did, but they slowed us down like no team has this season so we have to go back to the drawing board. I take responsibility for that. We have to get that part better, and we will. ..."
As for the receiving corps, NFL.com's Matt Harmon notes that the constant turnover at the quarterback position it is nearly impossible to get a read on what the distribution should look like. It did appear that the depth quarterbacks wanted to rely on Gary Barnidge in the middle of the field.
Harmon went on to suggest it may not matter for fantasy much at any point this year, but the team does look like they want to get rookie Ricardo Louis involved as a deep threat. He played 67 percent of the snaps and had an average depth of target over 22 yards down the field.
We'll see if that changes when Corey Coleman returns from his broken hand in a few weeks. ...
Finally. ... Tight end Connor Hamlett was promoted from the practice squad last week and scored a touchdown on a 17-yard pass from Whitehurst in the fourth quarter. It was his first NFL catch. He is the first Browns player to score on his first catch since Andre Davis in 2002.
QBs: Robert Griffin III, Josh McCown, Kevin Hogan, Cody Kessler
RBs: Isaiah Crowell, Duke Johnson, Glenn Winston, Terrell Watson, George Atkinson, Dan Vitale
WRs: Terrelle Pryor, Corey Coleman, Andrew Hawkins, Ricardo Louis, Rashard Higgins, Jordan Payton
TEs: Gary Barnidge, Randall Telfer, Seth DeValve
Dallas CowboysCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 12 October 2016
According to Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones, the MRI on Tony Romo's back showed his compression fracture has healed to the point where the quarterback "has no more concern about this injury that has sidelined him this year."
While speaking on 105.3 The Fan on Tuesday morning, Jones, however, would not say when Romo would be able to return to game action. The targeted dates have been Oct. 30 against the Philadelphia Eagles and Nov. 6 against the Cleveland Browns.
Jones said doctors have told him the compression fracture of Romo's vertebra should be "as strong or stronger than what it was before the injury."
Romo's focus now is conditioning and getting back into football shape after being sidelined since Aug. 25. He has been throwing for the past month. On Monday, head coach Jason Garrett said taking part in team drills "is a little further down the road."
The Cowboys have their bye after playing the Packers on Sunday.
"What you're into is getting him to get his core, get his core back area back in shape as he's had to do for the last several years," Jones told The Fan. "All players at this age need to do it, have to do that. So it's just a question of him working back in. We've got a great situation here. I just have to pinch myself to think about it. We've got Dak Prescott, who's playing at a level that is very capable of winning these games.
"We've got the future. Every time he walks out there, we got the optimism of the future. It's inspiring. It's inspiring his team and then we have in my mind one of the very top quarterbacks in the league as well. So at a position that in the past we've been compromised at, we're entering a time here where we're one of the best at the position that there is in the NFL."
While many outside organizations wonder about an impending quarterback controversy, Jones looks at it differently because things can change quickly.
"It's a miracle problem to have, in my mind," Jones said.
With Romo watching from the sidelines, Prescott has avoided the types of mistakes that have plagued Romo throughout his career. While the 23-year-old had his first turnover on a lost fumble against the Bengals, he has 155 passes without an interception to start his career, seven shy of Tom Brady's NFL record.
Prescott wrapped up the rookie mark when Philadelphia's Carson Wentz finally threw an interception in a loss at Detroit on Sunday.
"The biggest thing for everybody is just focusing on doing what you need to do to get yourself better every day," Garrett said, repeating a familiar refrain throughout Prescott's winning streak. "Tony is doing that with his rehab. Then Dak has to continue doing what he's doing, prepare as well as he can and go play as well as he can and that's pretty much where our focus is."
The Cowboys are visiting the Packers for the third straight season, starting with a loss in the divisional round of the playoffs in 2014. The 28-7 loss last season was one of seven in eight starts for Matt Cassel, the second of three veteran backups who failed filling in for Romo.
In two road victories, Prescott has led a fourth-quarter rally to beat Washington and overcome a 14-0 deficit in San Francisco. Now the former Mississippi State standout visits Lambeau Field.
"It's an historic place, but once I get there I will be locked in," Prescott said. "I will be locked into the game plan, that defense, and what we have to do to win the game."
And if Prescott beats Aaron Rodgers for a 5-1 start, the questions will keep coming for Garrett and Jones. ...
Also on Tuesday, Jones said "we won't take any chances there," regarding wide receiver Dez Bryant's recovery from a tibial plateau fracture. Jones said Bryant had some "sensitivity" after running last week and that this Thursday and Friday will be critical in determining whether he will play against the Green Bay Packers.
Bryant has missed the past two games. With a bye week following the Green Bay game, the Cowboys could keep Bryant out with the hope that he fully heals in time for the Oct. 30 game against Philadelphia. That said, Bryant was on the field working on a limited basis Wednesday. NFL Network's Jane Slater reported that Bryant had no wrap on the knee while running strong and catching the ball in individual drills. ...
With Bryant out, Prescott completed passes to seven different receivers, led by Terrance Williams, who had five catches for 70 yards in what was his best game of the season. Prescott's ability to find the open receiver has more than made up the absence of Dez Bryant the past couple of weeks.
I'll be following up on Bryant's status via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...
Meanwhile, Ezekiel Elliott ran for 134 yards and two touchdowns as Cowboys beat the Cincinnati Bengals 28-14 on Sunday.
Elliott, on only 15 carries, became the first Cowboys rookie with three consecutive 100-yard rushing games.
Hall of Famers Tony Dorsett and Emmitt Smith didn't do that as rookies.
Elliott leads the NFL in rushing with 546 yards and has set a Cowboys record for most yards by a rookie in his first five games. He had 140 against the Chicago Bears two weeks ago and 138 against the San Francisco 49ers last week, while feasting on the dominant play of the offensive line.
As NFL.com's Matt Franciscovich noted, it was also nice to see him log three receptions which is a season-high.
Elliott will face the best run defense in the league next week as the Packers allow an average of just 42.8 rush yards per game.
A few final notes here. ... Lance Dunbar missed last week's game with an ongoing knee issue; his status for this week is unclear. Dan Bailey made four extra points with his ailing back, something he seems likely to continue working through barring a setback.
QBs: Dak Prescott, Tony Romo, Mark Sanchez
RBs: Ezekiel Elliott, Alfred Morris, Lance Dunbar, Darius Jackson, Darren McFadden
WRs: Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams, Brice Butler, Cole Beasley, Lucky Whitehead
TEs: Jason Witten, Gavin Escobar, Geoff Swaim
Denver BroncosCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 12 October 2016
The Denver Broncos will be giving coach Gary Kubiak the week off as he deals with a complex migraine condition, general manager John Elway announced Monday.
Kubiak will not coach the Broncos during Thursday's game against the San Diego Chargers and won't return to the team until Oct. 17, Elway said.
Special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis has been elevated to interim head coach. Elway said that promoting the special teams coordinator was the most seamless way to reorganize the staff with offensive coordinator Rick Dennison taking on full-time play calling duties and Wade Phillips calling the defense. While DeCamillis still has extensive responsibilities during the week with special teams, he can shift a focus on game day to game management and allow the other two coordinators to have a relatively normal Sunday.
DeCamillis, 51, has been a special teams coach or coordinator in the league since 1988 and arrived in Denver back in 2015. Elway said that the Broncos did not even broach the subject of Kubiak working this week with the ailing coach still recovering in the hospital.
Elway noted that Kubiak clearly did not feel well before Sunday's loss to the Falcons, but declined to say if this condition was at all related to a 2013 incident where Kubiak was carted off the field as head coach of the Houston Texans due to a transient ischemic attack.
When asked if Kubiak's mounting on-field health issues were a concern to Elway, he said that he's trusting his coach, friend and former teammate.
While the Broncos won't have Kubiak on Thursday, they likely will have quarterback Trevor Siemian.
Siemian is officially listed as questionable.
FOXSports' Jay Glazer reported Sunday that Siemian's injury is a Grade 3 AC joint sprain. But Profootballtalk.com's Mike Florio reported Sunday night that Siemian was close to being ready against the Falcons. But with the Broncos playing on a short week and given the possibility of Siemian aggravating his left shoulder injury, the Broncos didn't want to lose him during the Week 5 game and then not have him on Thursday against the Chargers.
It's also hard not to envision the ultimate decision to give Siemian a week off as a chance to give rookie Paxton Lynch a test drive. As Florio suggested, based on Sunday's game, they can now keep the new car in the garage indefinitely, confident that they picked the right one in Week 1.
Siemian, who was 4-0 as a starter and has a 99.6 passer rating for the season, was limited in practice all last week and after watching him throw Saturday, the Broncos, most notably Kubiak, decided to give Paxton Lynch his first career start.
While Lynch routinely showed off his power arm and mobility -- the attributes that made the Broncos pick him in first round last April -- the Broncos are asking him to do a lot more than he was used to doing at the University of Memphis. Indeed, Lynch held the ball too long, displayed poor footwork, was unproductive when not in shotgun and overwhelmed behind a shaky offensive line.
And going against a Falcons defense that came into the game 30th in the league in total defense and 31st in pass defense, the Broncos still struggled to protect Lynch and were unable to protect the rookie with a consistent run game. Denver totaled just 84 rushing yards.
The result was the Falcons were able to create enough indecision on Lynch's part in the pocket to keep him unsettled until some completions late in the fourth quarter, including a 3-yard touchdown pass to Demaryius Thomas. Lynch was 3-of-8 passing in the first half, 8-of-15 by the end of the third quarter when the game was still within reach.
He took a chance on a third quarter pass up the left sideline to Thomas and it was intercepted. And when the Broncos were forced to put Lynch in a throw-first mode in the fourth quarter, the Falcons consistently pressured him.
What it means to a 4-1 team with designs on big things with a defense that has been its engine, Siemian is the Broncos' best option behind center.
Also on the injury front. ... Tight end Virgil Green sat out for a third consecutive game because of a calf injury he sustained late in the Broncos' win over Indianapolis in Week 2. He practiced last week and said Monday that he would play against the Chargers. He is not on this week's final injury report.
As FootballDiehards.com's Armando Salguero put it: "Green's return helps this offense out in more than one way. He will give Siemian another weapon and also helps in pass protection and run blocking. Barring any setbacks, he should be good to go in Week 6. ..."
Stay tuned. ... I'll be following up on both players via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...
Other notes of interest. ... Once again, the Broncos struggled to run the ball but this time it was against one of the league's worst rush defenses. Denver averaged just 3.5 yards per carry and the inability to get tough yardage on a consistent basis has been a problem throughout the season.
C.J. Anderson is averaging 3.49 yards per carry through five games, and after getting 20 carries in each of Denver's first two contests, he hasn't reached that mark in his last three outings.
Rookie Devontae Booker saw 10 touches in the game, tying his season-high. As NFL.com's Matt Franciscovich notes, six of Booker's 10 touches came in the second half here, with five of them coming mid-way through the fourth quarter when Denver was getting desperate.
Franciscovich added: "If Anderson keeps under-performing, it's not out of the question for Denver to work Booker in some more."
QBs: Trevor Siemian, Paxton Lynch, Austin Davis
RBs: Devontae Booker, Kapri Bibbs, C.J. Anderson, Justin Forsett
WRs: Demaryius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders, Cody Latimer, Bennie Fowler, Jordan Norwood, Jordan Taylor, Marlon Brown
TEs: A.J. Derby, Virgil Green, Jeff Heuerman
Detroit LionsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 12 October 2016
Over and over, the officials announced that Detroit's Corey Robinson was reporting as an eligible receiver - a sign of just how banged up the Lions are in certain areas.
Robinson is an offensive tackle and wears No. 70, but with their tight end corps thin because of injuries, the Lions used him there during their win over Philadelphia last weekend.
"He's been asking for a few routes here and there," head coach Jim Caldwell joked.
With Robinson filling his unusual role and Golden Tate lining up in the backfield some, the Lions showed some creativity in their 24-23 win Sunday. Detroit is dealing with significant injuries at tight end, running back, linebacker and on the defensive line, but the victory over the Eagles helped the Lions regain their footing a bit after three straight losses.
"We were starting a new quarter of the season," Tate said. "We like to break it up into four quarters, and it was the second quarter of the season. Obviously, the first quarter didn't go so well, so we just wanted to start off 1-0."
Detroit (2-3) was without tight end Eric Ebron (ankle, knee), defensive end Ziggy Ansah (ankle) and linebacker DeAndre Levy (knee, quadriceps) on Sunday. Running back Ameer Abdullah (foot) has also been out.
Considering all that, the Lions looked surprisingly crisp in the first half, when they scored on all three of their possessions and led 21-10 after two quarters.
The 6-7, 317-pound Robinson made his first career start and played 19 snaps. The Lions weren't about to throw the ball to him, but Robinson is certainly capable of providing extra blocking as a tight end, and Caldwell was pleased with the way he moved around.
"We typically don't put those guys in motion if we can help it, but I thought he did pretty well," Caldwell said Monday. "He did show an aptitude to handle a little bit of a skill position in that regard, so he did pretty well. Didn't have to worry about him jumping offsides or anything of that nature."
Tate hasn't had a great season so far at wide receiver, and the Lions moved him around as well Sunday.
Tate caught three of his five targets for 39 yards and played a few snaps at running back, where his presence helped set up Theo Riddick's second touchdown.
Had Tate, who admitted the performance lifted a weight off his shoulders, not made that catch, Prater likely would have come on to try a 57-yard kick.
"It's been a slow four weeks for me," Tate said. "I just kind of stayed prepared, mentally just stayed in the game and just trusted that when my number was called I'd make a play. ..."
The Lions were coming off a particularly unimpressive performance in a loss at Chicago , so beating the previously undefeated Eagles was an important step. Detroit lost seven of its first eight games last season, and there has been pressure to avoid repeating that kind of start this year.
The Lions host Los Angeles this weekend, the second of three consecutive home games. They'll face Washington the following weekend, so the hope in Detroit is that the victory over the Eagles can be the start of an extended stretch of better football.
"Every win is important. I think it's more so what you do after that that counts," Caldwell said. "The work we've got to put in and all those kinds of things will make a tremendous difference in that regard, so we've got to go back to work and straighten out the problems we had. But it's better to build on that platform than a loss, obviously."
Other notes of interest. ... Stafford had maybe his best game of the season despite ordinary numbers (19 of 25, 180 yards). He threw three first-half touchdown passes and was remarkably efficient considering the pressure he was under. Riddick caught two touchdowns and Marvin Jones had his third TD of the year, but Jones also had a drop and the Lions got nothing out of the tight end position.
The offensive line has to improve as it allowed another four sacks.
As for the rushing attack, the Lions once again failed to crack the 100-yard rushing mark as a team. Riddick finished with 49 yards on 11 carries, his best game since Week 1, but struggled running between the tackles. As mentioned above, Tate saw a few snaps at running back as the Lions played shorthanded at the position with Dwayne Washington out with an ankle injury.
As ESPN.com's Michael Rothstein suggested, Riddick is not likely going to be a massive running threat for the Lions at any point, but he looked more like the back who made some big plays in Week 1 than he did at other points this season.
Zach Zenner (seven carries, nine yards) had a quiet day playing behind Riddick, but the Lions did convert a couple of short-yardage runs.
The team added some veteran assistance to the backfield on Tuesday, when they signed Justin Forsett.
Forsett ran for 98 yards on 31 carries for the Ravens in their first three games of the season. It was his third year with the Ravens, who signed Forsett in 2014 and got a 1,266-yard season from him in his first year in Baltimore. Injuries limited Forsett to 10 games last season.
The Lions placed Ameer Abdullah on injured reserve earlier this year, leaving them with Riddick, Washington and Zenner.
Also according to Rothstein, the Lions knew they were getting a sure-handed receiver when they signed Anquan Boldin just before training camp to a one-year deal. But he has been a consistent part of the plan as a third receiver and has a knack for making important plays. Boldin's average yards per catch are down, but in five games he has 21 receptions for 184 yards.
That puts him on pace for 67 catches and 588 yards. He also has two touchdowns. Those would be pretty decent numbers for a third receiver who is more like the fourth or fifth option in this offense.
The status of Ebron and Washington, neither of whom practiced Wednesday, is something I'll be watching in coming days. Keep an eye on the Late-Breaking Updates section for more.
Also. ... NFL Network insider Ian Rapoport reports that veteran defensive tackle Haloti Ngata will miss 2-3 weeks with a shoulder injury.
QBs: Matthew Stafford, Dan Orlovsky, Jake Rudock
RBs: Theo Riddick, Dwayne Washington, Zach Zenner, Ameer Abdullah
WRs: Marvin Jones, Golden Tate, Anquan Boldin, Andre Roberts, Aaron Dobson
TEs: Eric Ebron, Cole Wick, Clay Harbor, Brandon Pettigrew
Green Bay PackersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 12 October 2016
For a group thrown for a loss by the unexpected release of its most recognizable member, the Packers offensive line has come together nicely during the first four games.
The unit was especially impressive during Sunday night's 23-16 victory over the New York Giants, paving the way for 147 rushing yards and giving quarterback Aaron Rodgers all kinds of time to throw. Rodgers dropped back to pass 50 times and was not sacked, despite facing top-flight edge rushers Olivier Vernon and Jason Pierre-Paul, while running back Eddie Lacy found running lanes despite the presence of hulking run-stuffing defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins.
"Our offensive line played extremely well," head coach Mike McCarthy said Monday. "I think like anything, it starts in the running game. Eddie ran hard, broke a lot of tackles, (and the) pass protection was excellent, particularly in the action passing game - a number of opportunities to hold the ball (and) throw the ball downfield. Our offensive line had a very good night."
Lacy, who carried 11 times for 81 yards before leaving the game with a sprained left ankle, praised the group, too.
"What they did (Sunday) night, you can't ask for much more than that," he said. "I really think we have the momentum going as far as running the ball. We just have to keep it up. We want to tire out defenses and take it through the rest of the season."
Rodgers, meanwhile, was amazed by how much time his line afforded him on a night when he made several great throws but also had multiple misfires that contributed to an uneven performance.
"We had a good night running the football. Against two premier pass rushers who are getting paid a lot of money, we did a good job," he said. "I thought I moved well enough but didn't have to a lot of times. I could stay in the pocket and that's a big credit to those guys up front."
Rodgers said the offense's challenge now is to make sure other aspects -- including his own play -- measure up to the quality the offensive line is providing, starting with next Sunday's game against the Dallas Cowboys at Lambeau Field.
"We're our biggest critic, myself included. I've got to play a lot better," Rodgers said. "We've got to execute in the passing game as well as we're doing up front and in the run game."
Meanwhile, the Sports Xchange notes that Randall Cobb took a jolt to the back of his neck from Giants safety Landon Collins at the end of a pivotal pass play in Green Bay's 23-16 win at Lambeau Field.
"I kind of got folded up like a lawn chair," Cobb said after the game.
He remained sore into Monday, according to McCarthy, but the coach spoke optimistically about Cobb's prognosis in the short term.
"It didn't look very good," McCarthy said of the Cobb's collision with Collins. "It didn't look very good live, and it didn't look very good on film. Unnecessary, but he's going to be fine."
McCarthy wouldn't say where the source of Cobb's discomfort remained less than 24 hours after the game.
"If he shows up on the injury report, then we'll know," McCarthy said.
Cobb said he was put through a concussion test after the game and thought he passed the initial checkup, saying he answered all of the questions that were asked of him.
Cobb's gritty performance of nine catches for 108 yards his first 100-yard receiving game since Sept. 20, 2015 was a bonus for fantasy owners who have stuck with him.
Long before Cobb went out in the closing minutes, Lacy hobbled off the field after gaining 2 yards on a toss play to the outside with about five minutes left in the third quarter.
"It is frustrating, but it happens," Lacy said. "Injuries are a part of the game. It's still early (in the season), but it's definitely frustrating, especially when you're doing good and you want to keep going but you can't."
Despite several efforts by team trainer Bryan Engel to tape and re-tape Lacy's ankle on the sideline, the team held Lacy out the rest of the game. He finished with big-time production of 81 yards on just 11 carries for an average of 7.4 yards.
"I'm all right," Lacy said after the game. "I can walk on it, which is good. We'll see how it is going into (the) week."
Lacy is hoping he makes a quick recovery so he can play against the Cowboys.
McCarthy said Lacy underwent some tests on the ankle Monday. More won't be known about Lacy's availability until he's put through testing on the field. He wasn't practicing Wednesday.
"I would say it's not serious," McCarthy said, "but I don't know what his status is for this week."
James Starks is the only other running back on Green Bay's roster. The seventh-year pro has struggled in limited playing time this season.
I'll have more on Lacy and Cobb via Late-Breaking Update as the week progresses. ...
One last note here. ... Rodgers completed only 23 of 45 passes for 259 yards and two touchdowns and had two passes picked off by cornerback Janoris Jenkins, the first off the hands of intended receiver Jordy Nelson inside the Giants' 10-yard line.
Rodgers' passer rating was a mediocre 65.0, which made no sense against a short-handed secondary ripe for the taking.
Nelson had a splendid diving catch in the end zone on a short dart from Rodgers to start the scoring in a game-opening drive that consumed more than 8 1/2 minutes. However, Nelson had only four catches for 38 yards in a game-high 13 targets, contributing to a few drops that bogged down the offense.
Rodgers last had multiple interceptions in a game on Oct. 11, 2015, when he also threw two in a win over the then-St. Louis Rams.
QBs: Aaron Rodgers, Brett Hundley
RBs: James Starks, Don Jackson, Christine Michael
WRs: Jordy Nelson, Davante Adams, Randall Cobb, Ty Montgomery, Jeff Janis, Geronimo Allison, Trevor Davis
TEs: Richard Rodgers, Jared Cook, Justin Perillo
Houston TexansCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 12 October 2016
Another lopsided loss on the road has the Texans searching for ways to jumpstart their stalled offense. The Texans fell to 3-2 with a 31-13 loss at the undefeated Vikings on Sunday in a game that illustrated that quarterback Brock Osweiler has plenty of room for improvement.
"I need to play better," he said. "I need to do my job better, and as an entire team we need to play better."
Osweiler isn't off to a great start in his first season in Houston after the Texans lured him away from Denver this offseason with a massive $72 million contract. He's thrown seven interceptions and just six touchdown passes.
As Associated Press sports writer Kristie Rieken notes, Osweiler leads an offense that ranks 29th in the NFL by averaging just 208.6 yards passing a game. Houston's offense was terrible on third downs on Sunday, converting just one of 13 opportunities. Osweiler often seemed frazzled in the pocket and once bounced a short pass to a wide open receiver.
Of course, the quarterback isn't the only one to blame for Houston's woes. He's playing behind a line that allowed four sacks on Sunday and that let him be hit 13 times against the Vikings.
Despite Osweiler's struggles, head coach Bill O'Brien refused to criticize him, instead taking the blame for the team's poor performance.
"I think overall I've been happy with the way the guy has prepared, haven't been happy with the way the offense has played, not blaming it on anybody, except right here," O'Brien said pointing at himself.
O'Brien also didn't blame the line for not protecting Osweiler better, claiming that the excessive number of hits he took were because he didn't call the right plays.
Another area of concern for this offense is that Osweiler failed to get the ball to star receiver DeAndre Hopkins enough to impact the game. Hopkins had a touchdown late on Sunday, but it was after the game was already out of hand.
He finished with five receptions for 56 yards, but had no receptions at halftime. This came a week after Hopkins was limited to one catch for 4 yards in a win over the Titans.
"Didn't get involved until late (Sunday), we need to do that earlier obviously," O'Brien said. "We know what a player he is ... and so we're going to work really hard to try to figure out how to get him the ball more often."
Hopkins was asked about the struggles of the offense on Monday and how they can correct things to improve this week. He was unusually short in his response to this question and all other queries thrown his way.
"Working every day," he said. "Nobody's perfect."
It's clear that teams focus on limiting Hopkins every week and often double team him. Despite that, Osweiler knows that he has to do a better job of getting the ball to both him and rookie Will Fuller, who was held to one reception for 4 yards against Minnesota.
"The bottom line, if the receivers are not getting the ball, who is the first person you need to look at? It is me," Osweiler said.
"I need to play better and I need to find a way, regardless of what the defense is doing, to get those guys the football."
As bleak as things looked on Sunday, the Texans still lead the AFC South, and a win against the Colts would push their cushion to two games against Indy in the division.
"We've got a lot of good things ahead of us if we can correct a lot of these things," O'Brien said. ...
Meanwhile, as NFL.com's Matt Franciscovich suggested, things can't get much worse than this for Lamar Miller. The volume has been there (save for this game) but Miller has struggled with efficiency this season and his touchdown drought remains.
Still, Franciscovich contends Miller's fantasy owners need to take the Minnesota game with a grain of salt and look ahead to next week. The Texans take on a bad Colts run defense this Sunday, so Miller should bounce back.
Tight end Ryan Griffin is under the NFL mandatory concussion protocol after suffering a scary blow against the Vikings. Griffin was down on the field for several minutes before walking to the sideline under his own power with trainers. He was later carted off the field to the locker room.
O'Brien characterized Griffin's situation as day to day.
Despite a relatively mild sprained medial collateral ligament in his right knee suffered just a week ago, tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz experienced little discomfort against the Vikings.
Fiedorowicz caught four passes for 61 yards on eight targets while wearing a knee brace.
"My knee feels good," Fiedorowicz said. "It felt better every day last week. I didn't even really think about the knee. The brace deadens the pain. My knee is fine actually. I'm not really very sore."
"I'm on target," Anderson said. "Everything is on schedule.
Fuller (hamstring) and Braxton Miller (hamstring) were both limited on Wednesday. I'll follow up as needed via Late-Breaking Update.
QBs: Brock Osweiler, Tom Savage, Brandon Weeden
RBs: Lamar Miller, Akeem Hunt, Alfred Blue, Tyler Ervin, Jonathan Grimes
WRs: DeAndre Hopkins, Will Fuller, Braxton Miller, Keith Mumphery, Jaelen Strong
TEs: C.J. Fiedorowicz, Ryan Griffin, Stephen Anderson
Indianapolis ColtsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 12 October 2016
As Associated Press sports writer Michael Marot noted this week, the Colts talk incessantly about protecting their biggest investment.
Andrew Luck is still getting hit far too often.
Five games into his fifth season, Luck already has been sacked a league-high 20 times, knocked down 41 other times and finds himself on a dubious franchise-record pace - if he can stay healthy for 16 games.
"We've got to be better," head coach Chuck Pagano said Monday. "You never want to give up sacks, obviously. We've got to get it corrected. But there is improvement and there will continue to be improvement."
As Marot suggests, right now, it's hard to see.
The Bears entered Sunday with six sacks in four weeks and nearly doubled that total with five sacks in the Colts' 29-23 victory.
At this rate, Luck will go down 64 times. If that happens, it would be the fourth-highest single-season total in league history behind only David Carr (76 in 2002 and 68 in 2005) and Randall Cunningham (72 in 1986).
Indy's franchise record for sacks allowed (62) came in 1997 with the totals split among three players - Jim Harbaugh, Paul Justin and Kelly Holcomb.
The real concerns emerged last season when Luck missed nine games with an assortment of injuries and the Colts needed five quarterbacks, including Luck to finish the season.
Indy actually finished in the middle of the league with 37 sacks allowed, but the injuries were enough to send the offensive line overhaul into overdrive.
Team owner Jim Irsay called it the top offseason priority. General manager Ryan Grigson used half of his eight draft picks on linemen. Pagano hired former Miami Dolphins coach Joe Philbin to fix the offensive line, and the expectation was that things would improve.
So far, they haven't and there's plenty of blame to spread around.
Rookie right tackle Joe Haeg allowed three sacks Sunday. Second-year right guard Denzelle Good allowed two more. Luck bobbled two snaps from rookie center Ryan Kelly, and the previous week against Jacksonville, it was veteran left tackle Anthony Castonzo who struggled.
The linemen aren't exclusively to blame.
Indy's coaching staff has spent countless hours working on Luck's footwork, his ability to get rid of the ball quicker and throwing the ball away more frequently. But there are still times he holds the ball too long, and it has produced mixed results.
"Andrew created a lot of (the downfield throws) by extending plays and that's something obviously he can do," Pagano said.
"When things aren't there initially, we count on him to do that and we count on the receivers. We made some huge, huge things happen on extended plays."
The problem is he also goes down on some extended plays, and Luck isn't about to blame that on the guys trying to keep him upright.
"I thought our guys up front battled their butts off all day," Luck said Sunday. "By no means was it perfect. By no means was I perfect. Shoot, I feel like the delay of the game at the end, you feel like you're trying to lose the game."
So can the Colts find a fix this season?
Pagano insists that they will continue looking to upgrade the roster, continue coaching those already in town and continue working to eliminate the ugly numbers and even uglier images of Luck taking all those hits.
"It's obviously a big concern for all of us," Pagano said. "You never want to get your quarterback hit and sacked and all those types of things."
But it's not a big enough concern for fantasy owners to lay off him.
In the last four homes games, Luck has 1,290 passing yards, nine touchdowns and one interception for a 106.6 passer rating. And he gets it done late in the games. The Colts' win over Chicago marked the 16th fourth quarter/overtime game-winning drive in Luck's career.
Also worth noting, Frank Gore (12,368) passed Jim Brown (12,312) for ninth place on the NFL's career rushing yardage list during Sunday's game with the Bears. As NFL.com notes, Josh Ferguson is really only a threat to steal work from Gore when the Colts find themselves trailing by a large margin in the second half.
Adam Vinatieri tied his career high with five field goals against the Bears. Vinatieri has made five in a game four times, most recently in 2013 against the Titans. Vinatieri (38) trails Mike Vanderjagt (42) and Gary Anderson (40) for the most consecutive field goals made in NFL history.
Vinatieri has also made his last nine straight field goal attempts from 50 yards or longer.
He was named AFC Special Teams Player of the Week on Wednesday.
Robert Turbin (wrist/shoulder) was a pregame inactive against the Bears. Turbin did not practice last Friday. According to the Sports Xchange, Turbin's status for Sunday night's game at Houston will be determined after practice this week.
Donte Moncrief (shoulder) continues to show progress in his rehab and is listed as day to day. Moncrief has missed the last four games. He will expected to be sidelined from four to six weeks.
QBs: Andrew Luck, Scott Tolzien, Stephen Morris
RBs: Frank Gore, Robert Turbin, Josh Ferguson, Jordan Todman
WRs: T.Y. Hilton, Donte Moncrief, Phillip Dorsett, Chester Rogers, Devin Street
TEs: Jack Doyle, Dwayne Allen, Erik Swoope
Jacksonville JaguarsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 12 October 2016
According to ESPN.com's Mike DiRocco, Blake Bortles was putting an enormous amount of pressure on himself after three disappointing games. Head coach Gus Bradley spent a lot of time talking to his quarterback before the Indianapolis game to get him to realize that blame for the team's offensive issues and resulting three losses wasn't all because of him.
The message seemed to get through because Bortles played his best game of the season in the Jaguars' Week 4 victory over Indianapolis.
Bortles completed 57.5 percent of his passes, threw for 207 yards and two touchdowns, and posted a quarterback rating of 96.4. Most importantly, he didn't turn the ball over after committing seven in the first three games.
"I think sometimes as a quarterback you single that out and maybe he puts more [pressure] on him, but that's Blake's nature," Bradley said. "He does that. He puts it all on himself. I think it was a great week for him that he calmed it down enough to where he played at a pretty high level. You didn't see it carry over to the game.
"That was my conversation with him: ‘I know the world can get crazy. There are a lot of things going on, but somehow you went into that game and you played with a calm mind.' That's what I think he will rely on, is that experience."
The best part of Bortles' game was the fact he didn't turn the ball over. It was just the seventh time in his career in which he has played a turnover-free game and first since a 42-39 loss at Tennessee on Dec. 6, 2015. The Jaguars are 4-3 in those seven games compared to 5-21 in the games in which Bortles commits at least one turnover.
Granted, the Jaguars didn't lose those games only because Bortles turned the ball over, but it certainly didn't help. Bortles has thrown eight interceptions that have been returned for touchdowns and has 48 turnovers (41 interceptions) in 34 games (33 starts).
Marqise Lee trails Allen Hurns by only four targets this season. Hurns has gotten off to a bit of a slow start, but so has Allen Robinson. As DiRocco notes, that has more to do with Bortles than anything. But Hurns is actually on pace to have more catches than he did last season.
Remember, Jacksonville, which had a bye this past weekend, lost its first three games of the year before winning its last outing in London, a 30-27 win over division rival Indianapolis. It leaves the Jaguars in last place in a very weak division, one that has just one team over .500 (Houston, 3-2 but losers of two straight) and two others a game under .500 at 2-3. All of which gives the Jaguars hope that they can still be a factor in the divisional race.
Their next three games are against Chicago, Oakland and Tennessee, which have a combined 7-8 record. Only Oakland, the surprise team in the league thus far, has a winning mark and the Raiders come to Jacksonville in two weeks when former Jaguars head coach Jack Del Rio returns to EverBank Field for the first time since he was fired 11 games into the 2011 season.
Head coach Gus Bradley and his staff used the bye week to identify areas of weakness for the Jaguars. But he feels there are some good positive points to build upon for the final 12 games this year.
"Offensively, I think that we are finding out that it is really important for us to be efficient," Bradley said. "I mean, 'Wow, earth shattering, right?' If we can run the ball and make good decisions with the ball and take care of the ball. Those things. I think we play very well. Obviously we have to get a chance for explosive plays. That is a part of it. I think it is making good decisions, being efficient. When we play efficient football we have a chance to do some really good things. That is what took place in the Indy game. I think you learn from that and you take it and run with it."
In addition, the Jaguars have managed to stay relatively injury-free.
One costly injury did come in the last game when starting left guard Luke Joeckel went down with a knee injury that required season-ending surgery. Bradley hasn't revealed who will step in for Joeckel, but it appears that veteran Patrick Omameh, who has previous NFL experience as a starter, will get the call. The extra week off is also good for veterans tight end Julius Thomas and defensive end Jared Odrick, both of whom missed the Indianapolis game due to injuries. Both are expected to be ready to play against Chicago; Thomas practiced on Monday.
Meanwhile, as the Sports Xchange pointed out, a three-game sweep over the Bears, Raiders and Titans will likely leave the Jaguars in the thick of the divisional race. They would already own wins over two of their divisional foes with a pair of games against the Texans on the horizon. With the Texans struggling two of the last three weekends, it tells the rest of the division that anything close to an 8-8 season mark could be good enough to claim the division title.
That's why the Jaguars will need to win games against non-.500 record teams as well as their home contests. It's why they need to put together what would be a four-game winning streak, a feat last accomplished by a Jacksonville team in 2005 (five-game streak).
QBs: Blake Bortles, Chad Henne, Brandon Allen
RBs: Chris Ivory, T.J. Yeldon, Denard Robinson, Corey Grant, Joe Banyard
WRs: Allen Robinson, Allen Hurns, Marqise Lee, Rashad Greene, Bryan Walters, Arrelious Benn
TEs: Julius Thomas, Ben Koyack, Neal Sterling
Kansas City ChiefsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 12 October 2016
As ESPN.com's Adam Teicher noted this week, the 2-2 Kansas City Chiefs are the very picture of average at the quarter point of their season. They've beaten two sub-.500 opponents at home and lost on the road against two teams that will wind up in the playoffs.
How they arrived at average is the surprise. It took a franchise-record comeback against the Chargers in the opener and eight turnovers by the New York Jets for the Chiefs to get their victories. They didn't score a touchdown in one of their losses and not until they were behind 36-0 in the fourth quarter of another.
In a season where the Chiefs so far have been very up and very down, Teicher's first-quarter positional grades are not high.
Quarterback Alex Smith earns a D+ with Teicher noting that Smith was phenomenal for a stretch of about 23 minutes to finish the game against the Chargers. Otherwise, this isn't what the Chiefs are paying for. The Chiefs haven't done Smith any favors. They're asking him to throw far too much. His protection has been inconsistent at best. The receivers have dropped too many passes.
But Smith also hasn't helped himself. His running game, an underrated factor in last season's offensive success, has largely disappeared.
Worth noting, Smith's start against Pittsburgh last week was his 50th with the Chiefs. Smith becomes the sixth quarterback in team history with at least 50 career starts. The others are Len Dawson (158), Trent Green (88), Bill Kenney (77), Mike Livingston (75) and Steve DeBerg (52).
The running backs earn a B. Spencer Ware has done a lot of good work. He's averaging 5.3 yards per carry and has supplied six of the Chiefs' 13 plays of 20 yards or more. But his three fumbles can't be ignored and now we have to see if Jamaal Charles takes over as the team's lead back.
Charles was a full participant Wedensday for the first time, Andy Reid said.
Charles will certainly get more work than he did against the Steelers in Week 5. The plan for the Pittsburgh game was to give him more work but between the wet field and the large deficit, the Chiefs instead in the first half decided to shut him down. Charles and Ware will each have a role to play at Oakland.
But Ware has been the most productive player on the K.C. offense, with 483 yards on 65 touches. Going into the bye week, he was the league's fourth-ranked offensive contributor but the only Chiefs offensive player among the top 50 in offensive yards.
Every other team in the AFC West had at least two offensive players in those 50 names.
Charles may have touched the ball just twice in his return to action last week against Pittsburgh, but those carries moved him into second place on the Chiefs career rushing-attempts list. Charles has 1,322 carries, passing Priest Holmes (1,321). He now trails only Larry Johnson, who holds the team record with 1,375 rushes.
The wide receivers also get a D+. Jeremy Maclin is on pace for 80 catches and almost 1,000 yards but just four touchdowns. He's dropped more than his usual share of passes. Chris Conley is an upgrade at the No. 2 receiver. In four games, he has 15 catches for 172 yards. At the same point in the '15 schedule, the third-round choice out of Georgia had three catches for 69 yards.
But the long passes just aren't there. The longest catch by a wide receiver is 22 yards. This group has just three touchdowns, two from rookie Tyreek Hill.
Travis Kelce leads the Chiefs in catches (22) and is tied with Hill for the lead in receiving touchdowns (2). Those numbers earn him a B. But Teicher notes that Kelce is getting a meager 10 yards per catch and the Chiefs, with his speed and ability to run after the catch, need more from him. The Chiefs are getting little from their other tight ends. Ross Travis dropped a pass in the end zone last week.
The biggest problem heading into Sunday's game against the resurgent Oakland Raiders? Surprisingly, it's the defense. Particularly keeping opponents off the scoreboard.
As the Sports Xchange notes, Reid arrived in 2013 with Bob Sutton as his defensive coordinator, and in their first three seasons together only one team in the league allowed fewer points than the 873 given up by the Chiefs: Seattle at 762 points. The Kansas City total worked out to 18.2 points per game.
The Chiefs have given up 92 points, or 23 points per game, in their four games of the 2016 season on a pace that would result in 368 points allowed over the course of the campaign. That's quite a significant change, especially when the Kansas City offense has had trouble putting points on the scoreboard. In 55 regular and postseason games under Reid and Sutton, only three opponents scored more than 40 points against the Chiefs 45 by Indianapolis in the 2013 playoffs, 41 from San Diego in 2013 and the 43 scored by Pittsburgh in this season's Game No. 4.
All of those Steelers touchdowns were from the offense and they happened quickly, as the longest of the six scoring drives was eight plays, 75 yards in 3 minutes, 49 seconds. They had three TD possessions of three plays or less, with their quickest drive taking just four seconds.
Whatever the case, it's an issue they need to get under control.
The good news there? Justin Houston has gotten the green light to resume football activity, team trainer Rick Burkholder announced Wednesday.
The Chiefs placed their sack master on the PUP list to start the season, guaranteeing that he would be out for at least six weeks. Houston has not been officially removed from PUP yet, according to the Chiefs. The team added that the earliest Houston can come off the PUP list is Monday and then he will have a 21-day window to practice before having to be made active.
Houston, like Charles, will no doubt be eased in to the fold. Still, given the team's current production on defense, the need is there. Houston has 29.5 sacks over his previous two seasons, but underwent offseason surgery on his ACL this past February.
QBs: Alex Smith, Nick Foles, Tyler Bray
RBs: Spencer Ware, Charcandrick West, Knile Davis, Jamaal Charles
WRs: Jeremy Maclin, Tyreek Hill, Chris Conley, Albert Wilson, De'Anthony Thomas, Demarcus Robinson
TEs: Travis Kelce, James O'Shaughnessy, Demetrius Harris, Ross Travis
Los Angeles RamsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 12 October 2016
As Associated Press sports writer Dan Greenspan framed it: "The Los Angeles Rams are moving the ball better. Now they need to turn that production into touchdowns."
As ESPN.com's Alden Gonzalez noted, Rams offensive coordinator Rob Boras did a nice job of mixing it up, designing ways for Austin and Todd Gurley to produce. Gurley rushed for 72 yards on 23 carries and scored his third touchdown of the season, which became the first Rams touchdown at the Coliseum since December 1979.
And Austin made a season-high seven catches and gained 85 yards from scrimmage.
Case Keenum threw for 271 yards on 21-of-31 passing, but his passer rating was a dismal 68.1. That was because he also threw two interceptions, one on a lazy sideline pass that the Bills returned for a touchdown. The play was monumental, as it provided the Bills with the winning points. The Rams never quite recovered. They simply need better from their quarterback.
The Rams are counting on Keenum to be a game manager. On Sunday, however, he made an unfortunate contribution to the losing cause.
The bottom line? The Rams had a season-high 345 yards of total offense against the Bills. But they scored only one touchdown from four trips into the red zone in their 30-19 loss.
Head coach Jeff Fisher was left alternating between defending his offense and being dismayed with a unit still ranked last overall in the NFL - the same spot it occupied last season.
"You can take the 32nd in the league and write all you want about it," Fisher said. "But this offense is improving."
Fisher started his Monday press conference highlighting statistics including rushing attempts and time of possession, calling it a "formula for winning." But when asked about the offense's inability to score touchdowns inside its opponents' 20-yard line, Fisher pointed to how far the Rams had to go on third down against the Bills.
A false start penalty against guard Roger Saffold resulted in a third-and-13 on the game's opening drive, while the Rams faced third-and-goal from the 13 in the fourth quarter. Both drives ended in field goals by Greg Zuerlein.
Zuerlein has converted all nine of his attempts so far, showing terrific improvement after only making 20 of 30 field goals last season. Still, Fisher would like to redistribute Zuerlein's work load.
"If we need him at the end, we have confidence in him to make that kick, but I'd much rather see him kick extra points," Fisher said.
Greenspan went on to suggest that could happen Sunday against the Lions.
The Lions have allowed at least 324 yards in each of their first five games. Opponents have scored touchdowns on 81.25 percent of red-zone possessions, the worst mark in the NFL. That is the kind of defensive generosity the Rams will need to exploit to remove themselves from the bottom of rankings in yards and points per game.
"We're going to have to have a 500-, 600-yard game to jump into the middle of the pack, so it's going to take some time, but to me the wins are going to offset that," Fisher said. "We're getting better on third down. We made some plays on third down. We had nine explosive plays against a really good defense, 23 first downs."
Meanwhile, if the offense does not improve, the calls to play No. 1 overall draft pick Jared Goff will increase. Fisher said the former California quarterback is seeing reps in practice during the week and also running the scout team. A three-game winning streak had pushed questions about Goff's development into the background.
"He picks up what we are doing," Fisher said. "He is improving and has learned a lot. With each passing week he is getting better."
If the Rams find themselves with a substantial lead in the fourth quarter or on the wrong end of a blowout, Fisher said he would give Goff playing time. Sean Mannion, now the third-string quarterback behind Goff, completed 6 of 7 passes in a 31-7 loss at the Cincinnati Bengals as a rookie last season.
Other notes of interest. ... Gurley showed moderate improvement against the Bills after struggling mightily over the first four games. But once again the Rams were unable to get their second-year star loose on a consistent basis, and not once did he break free on one of those long runs he was so accustomed to as a rookie last year.
Perhaps more encouraging, however, is with Benny Cunningham (hamstring) out, Gurley is seeing more passes come his way. As NFL.com's Matt Franciscovich notes, Gurley now has five targets in each of the last two games, which are career-highs. Franciscovich added: "Running backs on subpar offenses need that receiving workload to elevate their floors, especially ones averaging 2.7 yards per carry. ..."
Receiver Pharoh Cooper made his season debut after missing the first four games of his rookie year with a shoulder injury. Cooper played on special teams and periodically on pass plays.
Finally here. ... The Rams reached a tipping point Sunday with three starting defensive lineman injured and watching from the sidelines. A team can't lose players the quality of defensive end Robert Quinn, defensive tackle Michael Brockers and defensive end William Hayes and not feel the effects, and that certainly happened as Bills running back LeSean McCoy dazzled with 150 yards against mostly backups alongside All-Pro defensive tackle Aaron Donald.
Hayes (ankle) Quinn (shoulder) and Brockers (hip) were all ruled out prior to the game, resulting in a decimated defensive line. It's a situation worth watching this week.
In addition, Kenny Britt (thigh) played through his injury last week while Cunningham, as mentioned above, sat out. Fisher expects cunningham to return this week. I'll be following up on both as needed in the Late-Breaking Updates section in coming days.
QBs: Jared Goff, Case Keenum, Sean Mannion
RBs: Todd Gurley, Benny Cunningham, Chase Reynolds, Malcolm Brown
WRs: Kenny Britt, Tavon Austin, Brian Quick, Pharoh Cooper, Bradley Marquez, Mike Thomas, Nelson Spruce
TEs: Lance Kendricks, Tyler Higbee, Cory Harkey, Temarrick Hemingway
Miami DolphinsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 12 October 2016
As Josh Baumgard reported it for ESPN.com earlier this week: "The Ryan Tannehill roller coaster isn't ending anytime soon for the Miami Dolphins -- at least not in 2016."
Head coach Adam Gase didn't hesitate when asked if he considered benching his starting quarterback after the offense stalled amid a 30-17 loss to the Tennessee Titans.
"He's not coming out," Gase said. "You can ask me about that 100 times. He's gonna be in there the whole season."
Fans did their best to influence Gase to turn to backup quarterback Matt Moore with chants of "we want Moore" sporadically throughout the game.
Tannehill is in his fifth season as the Dolphins' starting quarterback and he is still searching for consistency. The Dolphins' offense struggled immensely Sunday, with Tannehill completing 12 of 18 passes for 191 yards and two interceptions in the team's fourth loss of the season.
However, Tannehill didn't have much help from his protection up front, getting sacked six times and pressured countless others as two starting linemen were inactive.
Rookie offensive lineman Laremy Tunsil injured his ankle while preparing for Sunday's game against the Titans and was among the team's inactives. Left tackle Branden Albert missed the game after suffering from an illness all week.
"Coach has confidence in me," Tannehill said, "and I have confidence in myself. I'm gonna go out and play and push myself in practice and do everything I can to get better. And I expect myself to play better."
Tannehill has been a turnover machine this season as he has seven interceptions and four fumbles in five games. His performances haven't been ideal, but he said the chants calling for him to be benched can't affect him.
"I just have to keep playing. I have to play my game, keep my focus on the things I need to do and play for the guys around me," he said. "I love being on this team. I love the guys in the huddle with me, and I'm going to do everything I can to go out and play the way they expect me to play. So do I like it? No, but it doesn't affect how I play or how I think about myself."
Of course, Miami was disastrous on both sides of the ball against the Titans.
The offense managed just one touchdown (the other came on a 74-yard punt return by rookie wide receiver Jakeem Grant), rushed for 51 yards and allowed six sacks.
"We're inept right now," Gase said. "We've just got to figure something out. We tried to slow it down (Sunday), and huddle, and we only had 41 plays and eat up 23 minutes. We're not getting enough first downs.
"We had a chance there on the third-and-1, and the ball gets batted down. We think we're in the end zone to be down by three and we get a holding call. It just seems that we can't get out of our own way right now."
"We weren't finishing our tackles," Gase said. "That'll kill you every time, especially with a running back like that."
The Dolphins were booed a couple of times by the home crowd and quarterback Ryan Tannehill (12 of 18, 191 yards, no touchdowns, two interceptions) was the focal point of a "We Want Moore!" chant, referencing backup quarterback Matt Moore.
Gase said it's a fruitless request; Tannehill remains the starting quarterback.
"He's not coming out," Gase said. "You can ask me a hundred times. He's going to be in there the rest of this season."
Perhaps worse than that, the 4-1 Pittsburgh Steelers visit this week. ...
Other notes of interest. ... Wide receiver DeVante Parker had two receptions for 70 yards Sunday against Tennessee, but he was practically invisible until his 50-yard reception in the third quarter with the Dolphins trailing, 24-14.
Parker, who was only targeted three times, had one pass turn into an interception.
For the season, Parker, the 2015 first-round pick who missed the opener with a hamstring injury, has 15 receptions for 247 yards (16.5 yards per reception) and one touchdown. He has been conspicuously absent at big times but gave himself a good review for the season.
"I think I'm playing pretty good," he said. "When they call the ball for me I just got to make the plays, but as a whole we just got to pull out the 'W'. ..."
Ajayi has 13 carries for 42 yards (3.2 yards per carry), including a nine-yard run against Tennessee in a fairly unimpressive performance. Fellow halfback Kenyan Drake dropped a catchable pass on a third down play and seemed to be benched until later when Damien Williams was sidelined by illness. Drake ended with two carries for four yards and two receptions for 16 yards.
Arian Foster (hamstring/groin) might be ready to play Sunday against Pittsburgh. Foster practiced twice last week and looked good while running before last week's Tennessee game. Miami Hearld staffer Armando Salguero confirmed the likelihood of Foster returning on Wednesday.
According to Alex Marvez of the Sporting News, the Dolphins are releasing running back Isaiah Pead -- perhaps further indication Foster's return is imminent.
After struggling with a hamstring injury early, Pead has just eight carries for 22 yards this season. The team also released offensive linemen Dallas Thomas and Billy Turner, the team is parting ways with some non-blockers as well.
Also according to Salguero, tight end Jordan Cameron will not be playing Sunday against the Steelers as he continues to try to recover from a concussion he suffered Sept. 25 against Cleveland and there is concern within the Dolphins that the player could be out an extended period as he mulls his NFL future.
The Dolphins have relied on Dion Sims as their starter with Marqueis Gray and recently signed Dominique Jones getting snaps as well. Jones, signed Oct. 3, caught two passes for four yards against Tennessee last Sunday.
The above-mentioned 74-yard punt return was Grant's first NFL touchdown. Grant, among the shortest players in the league at 5-7, used his speed and quickness to break or outrun five would-be tackles.
"It felt great, it felt really good," Grant said. "But like I said previously, it would've felt a lot better if we got the 'W'.
Finally. ... The Dolphins have placed linebacker Koa Misi on injured reserve. The move made room on the roster for the Dolphins to add cornerback Bene' Benwikere off the waiver wire. Misi missed the last two games with a neck injury but there was no public indication the injury was serious enough to have him miss the remainder of the season much less threaten his career.
QBs: Ryan Tannehill, Matt Moore
RBs: Jay Ajayi, Damien Williams, Kenyan Drake
WRs: Jarvis Landry, DeVante Parker, Kenny Stills, Leonte Carroo, Jakeem Grant
TEs: Dion Sims, Dominique Jones, Jordan Cameron
Minnesota VikingsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 12 October 2016
As NFL.com's Ben Goessling reminded readers, since the St. Louis Rams drafted him first overall in 2010, Sam Bradford has been something closer to an NFL vagabond than a franchise cornerstone. He has torn his ACL twice, been traded twice, played for five offensive coordinators and effectively been cast out of a franchise's future plans two months after he signed a contract extension.
Barely a month after the latest twist to his career, though, Bradford could be heading toward the kind of stability that topflight quarterbacks typically enjoy. He's certainly playing in a way that suggests he'll earn it.
Bradford has started all of four games for Minnesota. The Vikings aren't yet one-third of the way through their schedule.
The early return on that expensive emergency trade the Vikings made for Bradford, though, could not have been better.
They're the only undefeated team remaining in the NFL, and Bradford has the second-best passer rating in the league (109.8) among quarterbacks with a qualifying amount of attempts.
"Obviously, it's a great start," said Bradford, who was fetched from Philadelphia for a first-round draft pick in 2017 and a conditional selection in 2018 that'll be in the second, third or fourth round. "You couldn't ask for anything more than being 5-0 going into your bye week."
Waiting for the Vikings after the welcomed break is a road game on Oct. 23 against those Eagles (3-1), who haven't missed Bradford one bit because of the success of rookie Carson Wentz.
"Like (head coach Mike) Zimmer said after the game, it's still a lot of work this team needs to do," Bradford said. "I think they're still rooting for us to improve, and I think that's our mindset going forward. We're not satisfied. It's early in the year, and we haven't accomplished anything yet."
No, but as the Associated Press notes, the Vikings have at least mastered the art of resilience, after losing quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, running back Adrian Peterson, left tackle Matt Kalil and now right tackle Andre Smith, all perhaps for the rest of the season.
Bridgewater's injury to his left knee triggered the deal for Bradford eight days before the opener, and the 28-year-old former No. 1 overall draft pick has meshed with his new teammates and picked up offensive coordinator Norv Turner's playbook as if he's been in purple his whole pro career.
"The offensive coaches have done a great job of getting him prepared," Zimmer said. "The one thing about Sam is that he will communicate the things that he likes to do.
"If we have a play in the game plan that he doesn't like, he's going to tell Norv, and we get rid of the play. We try to do things that he's comfortable with, even though it's been a short period of time."
When wide receiver Stefon Diggs (groin) was held out on Sunday against the Texans, Adam Thielen stepped up with seven catches for 127 yards and a tone-setting touchdown on the opening drive. Thielen played 94 percent of the team snaps. According to NFL.com's Matt Harmon, Thielen showed that he is more than a slot receiver, taking 72 percent of his snaps outside and only 17 percent in the slot.
"I really didn't know much about this team at all, to be honest, before I got here. I think I learn a little bit more each week," Bradford said. "I think we've definitely got a lot of playmakers on the offensive side of the ball, a lot of guys that we feel if can get the ball in their hands then good things will happen."
According to the NFL, the Vikings are only the second team since 1933 to go five games into the season without throwing an interception while also winning all five. Roman Gabriel and the Los Angeles Rams also did so in 1969, when Gabriel went on to be voted the NFL MVP.
Peterson won the award in 2012 and led the league in rushing again last year, but he had only 50 yards on 31 carries before damaging his right knee.
As NFL.com's Matt Franciscovich pointed out, Asiata had four fewer touches than his more athletic teammate but managed 55 more total yards and scored for the second straight game. This is going to continue to be an unpredictable committee in Minnesota but McKinnon remains the higher-volume upside play with at least 20 touches in each of the last two games.
Asiata isn't going away, though, which will cap McKinnon's ceiling.
Bradford, who has completed 70.4 percent of his passes for 990 yards and six touchdowns, acknowledged on Sunday the creative spark that followed the loss of Peterson.
Rather than lining up in traditional setups for power running plays, the Vikings have been operating predominantly out of the shotgun and frequently using spread formations for a quick-passing, up-tempo attack.
"I think that's a little bit different than what the offense has done in the past," Bradford said. "I think it's just us getting to know each other, us getting familiar with where we're going as an offense. But I think it's just guys buying in."
And now they'll have the bye week to work on that aspect of the process at the same time anybody who might be bruised, beat up or injured can get healthier.
QBs: Sam Bradford, Shaun Hill, Taylor Heinicke
RBs: Jerick McKinnon, Matt Asiata, Adrian Peterson
WRs: Stefon Diggs, Cordarrelle Patterson, Adam Thielen, Charles Johnson, Laquon Treadwell, Jarius Wright
TEs: Kyle Rudolph, MyCole Pruitt, Rhett Ellison, David Morgan
New England PatriotsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 12 October 2016
As the Associated Press framed it: "The NFL had its chance to damage the Patriots while Tom Brady sat out his "Deflategate" suspension. Now it's New England's turn to punish the rest of the league. ..."
By the time he was pulled in favor of once-again-healthy backup Jimmy Garoppolo, Brady had completed 28 of 40 throws (70 percent) for 406 yards with three touchdowns to Martellus Bennett and no interceptions for a 127.7 passer rating. He also ran twice for 14 yards, including a first-down run that ended with Brady's emphatic celebration/first down signal on the Cleveland sideline.
Sure, Brady's return came against the only winless team, the spiraling, injury-ravaged Browns. But you could easily get the feeling Brady might throw for multiple touchdowns every time out as he makes up for lost time.
Not that he will admit that the suspension provided extra motivation for the four-time Super Bowl champion and two-time league MVP with the four-game ban.
"This isn't a time for me to reflect," Brady said. "There's no point at looking back at anything. Whether we won Super Bowls or lost championship games or the last four weeks, none of it matters. I've just moved on, man."
He moves on to Cincinnati, another reeling team with a suspect defense after being plundered by Dallas. In Brady's mind, he'll get even sharper than he was at Cleveland. It's a fair point because after a dominant first half, there was some slippage in the final period and a half he played.
"I think there was plenty of rust out there," Brady said. "I could do better in a lot of areas. I think it was a good win today. It was one game, and like I said, 4-1 is a good point to be at for us. We have a long road ahead, so we have to stay focused."
Indeed, there are some challenges ahead: at Pittsburgh, Buffalo and Denver, home for Seattle and Baltimore, a team that tends to play New England tough.
The returns of Brady covered up another concerning day for kicker Stephen Gostkowski, who missed a field goal for the third time in four games.
Gostkowski missed a 50-yard attempt Sunday, but he did make a 31-yarder. He missed his only attempt against Buffalo and was off target from 39 yards in Week 2 against Miami.
Nevertheless, the Patriots still have confidence in the franchise's career leading scorer.
"Stephen's one of our hardest-working players and I'd say one of the most respected players on the team because of the way he does work and how team-oriented he is," head coach Bill Belichick said on a conference call Monday.
A more consistent performance from the 11-year veteran would help take pressure off Brady in his first home game back this Sunday.
Of course, it seems as if the stage has never been too big for the 39-year-old quarterback.
"Old Benjamin Button hasn't slowed down yet," special teams star Matthew Slater said.
Brady was named AFC Offensive Player of the Week on Wednesday. ...
Other notes of interest. ... As ESPN.com's Mike Reiss suggests, Bennett's performance was especially impressive considering he appeared to be seriously injured on the Patriots' first drive, remaining down following a goal-line run by LeGarrette Blount after having his right ankle rolled up on.
At that point, few would have been surprised if Bennett's day was over. The team had listed his return as questionable.
At one point as he lay on the turf, Bennett thought it was worse and that his tandem with fellow tight end Rob Gronkowski might be broken up.
Instead, Bennett's 5-yard touchdown catch with 12:10 remaining in the second quarter was a clear-cut example of how he and Gronkowski worked off each other.
With two Browns defensive backs doubling Gronkowski wide to the right side, Bennett had the 1-on-1 matchup and Brady threaded the pass into a tight window for the score.
"That's why it's such a great sport to play, because it's a team sport. We've been waiting for this moment since we got together to both get out on the field," Gronkowski said.
Added Bennett, "I've never had three touchdowns before. I scored 60 points in a basketball game before, which I think is kind of equivalent to this."
Gronkowski had just one reception in the two games he played with Patriots rookie third-string quarterback Jacoby Brissett. After missing the first two games of the year to a hamstring injury and then easing his way back into action for two weeks, the return of Brady brought the return of big production for New England big, All-Pro tight end.
Gronkowski had a pair of catches for 53 yards on the Patriots' opening drive to a touchdown. He finished the day with five catches for 109 yards.
"I felt a lot better out there this week and now I'm getting back to my old self, so I feel great," Gronkowski said after his breakout day. "I love going out there and love playing football when I'm back to myself. ..."
As good as the passing game was, New England's rushing attack never got on track in Cleveland.
Aside from Blount's 1-yard scoring run to close the opening scoring drive, there was little production. Blount had a game-high 18 carries for just 37 yards (2.7 average), and that included a 13-yard long. Overall New England ran it 33 times for 101 yards for just a 3-yard average when removing kneel-downs. James White was the long bright spot on the ground, running five times for 26 yards.
Otherwise Blount getting stuffed twice from the Cleveland 1 on third and four down, failing to punch in the score, was symbolic of a lackluster day from the Patriots' runners and their offensive line.
One last note here. ... Running back Brandon Bolden (knee) did not make the trip to Cleveland after missing practice all week because of the injury suffered in the second half of last week's loss to the Bills.
QBs: Tom Brady, Jimmy Garoppolo, Jacoby Brissett
RBs: LeGarrette Blount, James White, Dion Lewis, D.J. Foster, Brandon Bolden, James Develin
WRs: Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, Chris Hogan, Malcolm Mitchell, Matt Slater
TEs: Martellus Bennett, Rob Gronkowski, Matthew Lengel
New Orleans SaintsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 12 October 2016
After starting the regular season with three consecutive losses and suffering numerous injuries before and after the opener, the Saints needed a win about as much as they needed a bye last week.
On second thought, the Saints needed a win a whole lot more. Nothing tops winning after losing three games in a row, especially when you're facing a long plane ride home before entering the bye week.
While most teams and their players don't like to have a bye in Week 5 because it's much too early when you're playing 16 games in a 17-week period, it might actually be a benefit to the Saints (1-3) this time around.
When the Saints returned to work Monday for a bonus practice, they were hoping to have some of their injured players back on the field as they began preparing for Sunday's matchup with the defending NFC champion Carolina Panthers.
The Saints' list of inactive for the game against the Chargers included seven players who were unavailable for the game because of injuries, and several more played despite being nicked up.
Among them were strong safety Kenny Vaccaro, who injured an ankle in a Week 2 game, sat out the next game and then played against the Chargers.
"A lot of guys don't really like the early bye you kind of want it around Week 10, when you're really, really beat up but we've had so many injuries early," Vaccaro said. "A lot of guys that are playing are banged up. It will be exciting to see guys out there fresh and flying around (against Carolina).
Left tackle Terron Armstead has missed the last two games with a knee injury and it's not known if he'll be able to return for Sunday's game with the Panthers. Tight end Josh Hill has missed three consecutive games after spraining an ankle in the season opener but might be ready to return soon.
Beyond the injuries, with the 37-year-old Drew Brees off to another solid start, the Saints rank second in passing offense with 304.3 yards per game.
As the Sports Xchange notes, Brees has been his usual efficient self in completing 65.9 percent of his passes for 1,269 yards with 10 touchdowns and three interceptions. Brees, who has a passer rating of 98.9, continues to spread the ball around with seven different receivers catching at least one touchdown.
Wide receiver Michael Thomas, a second-round draft pick, leads the team with 21 catches for 229 yards and two TDs, and Willie Snead and Brandin Cooks continue to be the deep threats, averaging 14.2 yards and 16.6 yards, respectively.
New tight end Coby Fleener is still finding his way with the offense but has 13 catches and a 12.5 average.
About the only thing that takes the grade down a little is Brees has been sacked seven times, but part of that can be attributed to offensive line injuries especially to left tackle Terron Armstead.
The Saints have had a tough time getting the running game started most weeks and rank 29th with just 81.8 yards per game with a long run of 17 yards.
While they don't usually have to run the ball that much because of their passing game, they still would like to do better than 3.6 yards per attempt when they do try it.
Mark Ingram has had some success in netting 221 yards on 54 carries for a 4.1 average, but the rest of the team has just 106 yards on 38 attempts for a 2.8 average. Tim Hightower has just 48 yards on 14 attempts as the second man in. Fullback John Kuhn, however, seems to be taking in short-yardage situations with three TDs on seven carries.
Daniel Lasco played more snaps than Travaris Cadet in Week 5. But Triplett notes that Cadet essentially plays a different position. He's practically a receiver, so he does have some value in deep PPR leagues while Lasco would need injuries at the top of the depth chart to ensure a greater workload.
But even with Cadet, the workload is unpredictable based on game plan and game flow.
QBs: Drew Brees, Luke McCown, Garrett Grayson
RBs: Mark Ingram, Tim Hightower, Travaris Cadet, Marcus Murphy, Daniel Lasco
WRs: Brandin Cooks, Willie Snead, Michael Thomas, Brandon Coleman, TommyLee Lewis
TEs: Coby Fleener, Josh Hill, Chris Manhertz, John Phillips
New York GiantsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 12 October 2016
According to Associated Press sports writer Tom Canavan, Ben McAdoo's honeymoon with the New York Giants is over.
After getting off to a 2-0 start, the rookie coach has seen his team lose three straight games and fall into last place in the NFC East.
The offense is having trouble scoring. Eli Manning seems a little off. The line has been inconsistent and the dynamic receiving trio of Odell Beckham, Victor Cruz and Sterling Shepard are not producing as expected.
That's only half the problem.
The Giants invested a ton of money in the defense in the offseason and the returns are not matching the investment after five games.
While Steve Spagnuolo's unit produced its first two turnovers in Sunday's night's 23-16 loss to the Packers in Green Bay, the highly touted defensive line has not applied pressure to opposing quarterbacks this season.
When the penalties, turnovers and mistakes on both sides of the ball are added, it makes for a losing record and some disgruntled followers, who entered the season believing that McAdoo had the talent to end New York's four-year playoff drought.
However, the Giants' problems go beyond football.
The first five weeks also been dominated by Beckham's tantrums on the field and the sideline. He was on his best behavior in Green Bay.
Left tackle Ereck Flowers, however, was not. The 2015 first-round draft pick put his hands on ESPN reporter Jordan Raanan in the locker room after the game.
McAdoo, general manager Jerry Reese and the team's public relations department all met with Flowers on Monday. Flowers also apologized to Raanan, McAdoo said.
"He understands that he cannot behave that way," McAdoo said. "It's unacceptable, and it's important for us to all have a professional relationship with the media, players and coaches."
McAdoo refused to say whether Flowers would be disciplined, noting that would be handled in house.
The Giants will return home this weekend to play the Baltimore Ravens (3-2).
"When you face two tough road games like we've had, against tough opponents, I think we need to regroup, we need to surrender our egos together and work to win this week," McAdoo said.
The Giants have a lot to fix. Manning has thrown five touchdowns and four interceptions this season. He has had two games without a TD pass. He missed a certain scoring pass late in the first half Sunday night when he overthrew wide-open tight end Will Tye with New York trailing 14-6.
When asked if Manning was hurt, McAdoo said that he knew of no injury.
The running game has suffered with Rashad Jennings missing the last three games with a hand injury and Shane Vereen out for the year with a torn triceps. Orleans Darkwa has started the last two and he was held to 11 yards on seven carries by the Packers.
As NFL.com notes, Bobby Rainey, who collected 52 receiving yards, was the better fantasy option with the Giants trailing for the entirety of the game. Rainey is definitely the pass-catching option in this backfield and as long as the Giants offense is struggling, he should provide a safe weekly floor in PPR formats even when Jennings returns.
Adding to that, the wideouts also struggled. Beckham had five receptions for 56 yards and a touchdown. Cruz did not catch either of the two passes thrown his way, and Shepard had season-low totals of two receptions for 14 yards.
It's not good, at least compared to last year.
Remember, the offense pretty much had the same starting offensive line, had one quality receiver (Beckham), and had tight end Will Tye and Darkwa as part of the mix.
By the end of the 2015 season, the Giants finished eighth in the league in total average yardage per game (372.0) and sixth in average points per game (26.2).
The biggest problem in particular has been the passing game. Believed to be the team's bread and butter coming into this year, the Giants are averaging 266.0 yards per game 10th in the league but have yet to live up to being that explosive offense that McAdoo said last week he thinks they're on the verge of becoming.
The million-dollar question is why not?
According to the Sports Xchange, a popular theory is that Manning might be hiding some sort of injury. Manning has not missed a start for the Giants since being promoted to the job in his rookie season back in 2004, but he's also had his share of nicks along the way.
Some of his known injuries have included plantar fasciitis in 2009 and a high ankle sprain suffered in the 2013 regular season finale, which necessitated a scope the ensuing spring.
Manning has also raised a few eyebrows now that he wears a sleeve over his knees, making some wonder if he does so to alleviate some sort of on-going ailment.
If Manning is currently nursing an injury that is affecting his throws, that's news to McAdoo.
"He's healthy as far as I'm aware."
Whatever the case, after five games in 2015, New York was 3-2, had scored 132 points and given up 109 in Tom Coughlin's final season. This year, New York is 2-3, has 89 points and surrendered 108.
Honeymoon over. ..
A few final notes. ... Receiver Dwayne Harris, the Giants return specialist, has a sprained big toe, according to McAdoo. There was no immediate word as to whether Harris would be able to practice this week.
Tight end Jerell Adams, who caught both of his pass targets for 27 yards and who also showed some flashes as a blocking tight end, will get more opportunities in the coming weeks, according to McAdoo. At 6-5, 247 pounds, Adams gives the Giants a much bigger target than the 6-2, 262-pound Tye in the passing game. Worth noting, however, Larry Donnell (concussion) should return to action this week.
The same goes for Jennings, who has missed three games with his injured thumb. I'll follow up on both men in the Late-Breaking News section in coming days.
QBs: Eli Manning, Ryan Nassib
RBs: Rashad Jennings, Paul Perkins, Orleans Darkwa, Bobby Rainey, Shane Vereen
WRs: Odell Beckham, Sterling Shepard, Victor Cruz, Roger Lewis, Dwayne Harris, Tavarres King
TEs: Will Tye, Jerell Adams, Larry Donnell
New York JetsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 12 October 2016
According to Associated Press sports writer Dennis Waszak Jr., positivity in the face of despair was the overwhelming theme Monday, 24 hours after the Jets lost 31-13 at Pittsburgh with another uninspired performance.
The criticism from fans and media is widespread, with just about everyone taking the blame from outside the facility.
The list has gotten downright lengthy: Head coach Todd Bowles' questionable coaching decisions; Ryan Fitzpatrick's uneven play at quarterback; the leaky secondary giving up big plays every week; the disappearing pass rush; Chan Gailey's offense not being able to get into the end zone consistently; the running game being bottled up the past few weeks.
Still, Bowles said he's not entertaining thoughts of making significant chances.
After a 10-6 season in 2015 and just barely missing the playoffs, expectations were high this season.
But five games in, the Jets have been a huge dud. In almost every area of the field.
"Guys are pressing," receiver Brandon Marshall said. "It's just not happening for us. All we can do is go back out there and keep working at it. We know what happened. We obviously understand that we need to be better in situational football. As of right now, that is closing out games."
Bowles echoed that sentiment, adding: "We've just got to find a way to turn the corner."
After the Jets lost 24-3 at Kansas City two weeks ago, Marshall said the team's response would tell everyone what type of squad New York is.
Well, two more losses later, the Jets are among the bottom-tier teams in the league - having shown very little for fans to be encouraged about.
"We expect to be killed out in the streets and killed in the media because our record shows that we're not a really good team," Marshall said.
"But we have to stick together. We know who we have in that locker room. You guys know who we have in that locker room. I think this is surprising not only to our organization, but this is surprising to you guys and our fans. But with that comes criticism."
And, plenty of second-guessing. Such as with the decision by Bowles to punt on fourth-and-2 with the Jets down two scores halfway through the fourth quarter at Pittsburgh.
The coach defended his call after the game, saying he wanted to give his defense a chance to stop the Steelers and give the Jets good field position. He reiterated that Monday, saying his opinion is "the same."
Since a 37-31 win at Buffalo in Week 2 in which New York put up 17 points after halftime, the Jets have scored a total of seven points in the second half in the past three games.
"We've got to take a hard look at that and figure it out because that has been a recurring problem," Fitzpatrick said.
"That's something we're going to put a lot of focus into and make sure that we're playing better in the second half because it hasn't come together for us the last few weeks."
In the meantime, the Jets are not concerned about the team possibly splintering as the losses pile.
"I don't worry about that at all," Fitzpatrick said, "just because of the type of people we have in our locker room."
Meanwhile, as ESPN.com's Rich Cimini notes, the defense committed some of their usual sins, allowing a long touchdown and hurting themselves with a busted coverage. They allowed four touchdown passes and 380 yards in the air. Ben Roethlisberger finished with a 124.4 passer rating, becoming the fifth straight quarterback to reach the 100 mark against the Jets.
Somewhere in Arizona, Carson Palmer must be smiling. He'll get his chance at them Monday night. ...
Other notes of interest. ... Matt Forte (12 rushes for 53 yards) had a pretty good looking final line, but he gained 28 yards on a single carry, meaning he averaged barely more than two yards per tote on his other 11 rushes. The idea of using him as a 20-carry back seems to be long gone.
Bilal Powell (four rushes for 10 yards) should get a bigger role as a ball carrier if the Jets can ever get into a position where they aren't playing from behind. In the meantime, with six catches for 41 yards, Powell was again a reliable option underneath. ...
Marshall reached 900 career receptions Sunday, when he had eight catches for 114 yards and a touchdown in the Jets' 31-13 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Marshall is the 21st player in NFL history to record 900 catches and needed just 157 games to reach the mark. Only two players Marvin Harrison (150 games) and Andre Johnson (153 games) recorded 900 receptions faster.
Tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins made his Jets debut Sunday, when he had two catches for 17 yards in a 31-13 loss to the Steelers. Seferian-Jenkins was claimed off waivers by the Jets from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sept. 26, three days after he was charged with DUI.
Unfortunately, Seferian-Jenkins has an ankle injury and didn't practice Wednesday. ...
A few final notes. ... On Wednesday, the Jets placed wide receiver Eric Decker on injured reserve with a torn rotator cuff. According to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, Decker is expected to need surgery and likely will miss the remainder of the season.
Decker made it through three games, catching nine passes for 194 yards and two touchdowns -- underscoring the massive regression New York has undergone offensively in 2016.
Decker was the perfect complementary wideout in offensive coordinator Chan Gailey's system; it's a rare bit of luck for a new head coach and play-caller to inherit a tailored fit. Now, that responsibility lies on the shoulders of Quincy Enunwa, who has 27 catches for 294 yards and a touchdown this year.
The team claimed receiver Jeremy Butler off waivers from the Bucs. To make room for Butler, the Jets waived receiver Jeremy Ross, who was signed a couple of weeks ago to replace the PR/KR Jalin Marshall (shoulder). This means Marshall should be ready to go this week. He started fielding punts last week in practice but didn't play against Pittsburgh.
In addition, the Jets worked out FB Marcel Reece and TE Henry Mitchell on Tuesday.
QBs: Ryan Fitzpatrick, Bryce Petty, Christian Hackenberg
RBs: Matt Forte, Bilal Powell, C.J. Spiller
WRs: Brandon Marshall, Quincy Enunwa, Robby Anderson, Charone Peake, Jalin Marshall
TEs: Kellen Davis, Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Brandon Bostick
Oakland RaidersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 12 October 2016
As ESPN.com's Paul Gutierrez explained, "No, not funny like a clown. Not to amuse you. It had nothing to do with Joe Pesci and 'Goodfellas.' More like funny as in 'weird.' Because surely, Cooper should be lighting up defenses in his second NFL season after going to the Pro Bowl as a rookie, right?"
But the connection finally came to fruition Sunday, when they connected on a 64-yard touchdown in the third quarter, sparking Oakland to a come-from-behind 34-31 victory over the Chargers at the Oakland Coliseum.
Oakland was facing second-and-10 at their 36-yard line with 11:34 remaining in third quarter when Cooper used a quick hitch move to blow by Chargers safety Adrian Phillips down the left sideline. Cooper hauled in Carr's pass in perfect stride and cruised into the end zone, and after Sebastian Janikowski's extra point, the Raiders trailed San Diego 17-16.
"They obviously had some injuries," Carr said of the Chargers, who were without their two best cornerbacks in Jason Verrett, who was placed on Injured Reserve this week with a knee injury, and Brandon Flowers, who was inactive with a concussion.
"They were swapping in guys and stuff like that. We saw them bring (Phillips) down and Coop versus that matchup, well, Coop on a lot of matchups is what you like, especially down the field. So I just tried my best to hold the safety (Dwight Lowery) to the right hash and just gave Coop a shot to go run underneath it."
Cooper finished with six catches -- on 12 targets -- for 138 yards and the touchdown, and he also caught a pass for a 2-point conversion. Carr endured an uneven day to finish with 317 yards on 25-of-40 passing with two touchdowns and an interception.
Head coach Jack Del Rio was not sweating getting Cooper his first TD after he had six last year.
"I think we know that Coop is going to get his numbers," Del Rio said. "Like I said, Khalil (Mack) is going to get his numbers (in sacks). These guys are good players. They're going to play. We just want them to play. We don't want them to start pressing about numbers. It's about winning games.
"It's about growing and improving as a team. We have a lot of growth in front of us, a lot to improve on."
But while getting Cooper involved was on the Raiders' to-do list, so, too, was simply getting a win in the Black Hole.
The Raiders, who are 3-0 on the road to start a season for the first time since 2000, were flat in their home-opening loss to the Atlanta Falcons, and again in the first half against the Chargers on Sunday.
That's when Carr connected with Cooper on a touchdown pass, giving the Raiders a much-needed lift. And while the defense bent again, it took a blown field goal attempt by the Chargers with two minutes to play -- rookie punter/holder Drew Kaser could not handle the snap on a 36-yard attempt that would have tied the score -- to essentially clinch the game.
"Probably the kicker wasn't living right this week," Raiders linebacker Bruce Irvin said with a smile. "But the football gods looked out for the Oakland Raiders and we appreciate that."
The Raiders are off to a 4-1 start for the first time since 2002. Are they for real? About as real as Cooper's touchdown-less streak was funny. Take that how you will.
Especially with the rested Kansas City Chiefs coming to Oakland next week off an embarrassing loss on national television last week and a bye this weekend. ...
Worth noting. ... Carr was 6-for-8 with two touchdown passes on throws traveling at least 15 yards downfield, per ESPN Stats & Information. That tied for the most deep completions in a game during his three-year career.
In fact, Carr averaged nearly twice as many yards-per-attempt on deep passes as Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers did at the Coliseum, 20.4 yards to 10.4 yards, while Rivers was just 3-for-10 on such deep passes.
Carr finished 25 of 40 for 317 yards with two touchdowns and an interception on his first pass, a poor screen attempt thrown directly to Brandon Mebane.
The rushing attack was sub-par for the second consecutive game, the Raiders averaged only 3.6 yards per carry (25 carries, 89 yards) and had one rushing touchdown on a 1-yard run by Jamize Olawale. With Latavius Murray out with a toe injury, the Raiders couldn't run effectively near the goal line. Jalen Richard led the Raiders with 31 yards on eight carries.
Del Rio said he on Tuesday he "hopes" Murray will return to the lineup Week 6 against the Chiefs. I'll have more on Murray's Week 6 status via Late-Breaking Update in coming days.
QBs: Derek Carr, Matthew McGloin, Connor Cook
RBs: Latavius Murray, Jalen Richard, DeAndre Washington, Taiwan Jones, Marcel Reece
WRs: Amari Cooper, Michael Crabtree, Seth Roberts, Andre Holmes, Johnny Holton
TEs: Clive Walford, Lee Smith, Mychal Rivera
Philadelphia EaglesCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 12 October 2016
As the Associated Press suggested, a week off left the Philadelphia Eagles rested and rusty.
Disciplined, mistake-free football helped the Eagles start 3-0. Penalties and turnovers led to Philadelphia's first loss.
Maybe the bye came at the wrong time. The Eagles were on a roll following an impressive 34-3 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers.
"That's the concern when you have that much time off," head coach Doug Pederson said. "You'd love to continue to play, but it is what it is. We didn't make the schedule, we had a bye and we have two games on the road, and we just have to learn to take advantage of these situations and we just came up a little bit short."
The Eagles (3-1) started slow at Detroit, falling behind 14-0 and 21-7. They rallied in the second half and had a 23-21 lead when Ryan Mathews lost a fumble on third-and-2. A first down would've sealed the win.
It was Philadelphia's first turnover this season and it allowed the Lions (2-3) to take a 24-23 lead on a field goal. Carson Wentz and the offense had time for a comeback, but the rookie quarterback inexplicably heaved a desperation pass on first down that resulted in his first interception.
"I was surprised he even threw that," said Darius Slay, who made the pick. "I was in great position, so I'm like, 'OK.' But then I looked in the air and I said, 'Oh, the ball is coming for real. He's really throwing this. Oh well, it's time for his first career pick."'
Wentz finished 25-of-33 for 238 yards with two touchdowns and the pick, and helped the Eagles come back from a 21-10 halftime deficit. Through four games, he's thrown for 1,007 yards with seven touchdowns and one interception.
"You never enjoy losing. That's just the way it is," Wentz said. "But it's the NFL. It's hard to win in this league. They played a great game. We've got to go back and watch the tape, clean up some of the mistakes -- like I mentioned, some of those things we can control ourselves -- and just go onto the next week."
The Eagles fell behind Dallas (4-1) in the NFC East standings with a tough game at Washington (3-2) coming up. The Redskins have won three straight after a 0-2 start, but they're 1-2 at home.
The schedule doesn't get easier after Washington. Minnesota (5-0) visits the Eagles on Oct. 23. Philadelphia then goes back on the road at the Cowboys and at the Giants.
"We just can't beat ourselves," receiver Jordan Matthews said. "I think everybody's got to take a look in the mirror and just say, 'OK, how are we going to come back and finish next game?"'
For what it's worth, Pederson said the recovery of Mathews' fumble should've been reversed after a video review because Eagles center Jason Kelce touched the ball while out of bounds.
"It's a dead ball out of bounds. That's the rule," Pederson said.
Also of interest. ... As NFL.com's Matt Harmon noted, in what was by far the worst outing of his young career, Wentz hardly elevated his wide receivers. Nelson Agholor led the team in targets, but still played just about 77 percent of the snaps. Dorial Green-Beckham played 51 percent of the snaps, after playing 48 and 46 percent the last two weeks. It wasn't a massive increase in playing time, but the coaches did indeed deliver on their promise to use the talented wideout more.
With Agholor not running away with the job, Green-Beckham remains a threat.
In addition, Harmon wrote, "Oh, and all tight ends score touchdowns against the Lions. ... Unless they are Zach Ertz, apparently. ..."
Meanwhile, NFL.com's Matt Franciscovich suggested that a bye week is just what the doctor ordered for Mathews. He returned healthy to face the Lions and was the Eagles primary back with 16 touches for 75 total yard and a touchdown. With Mathews serving as the feature back, neither Wendell Smallwood nor Kenjon Barner had a single touch.
Darren Sproles, who out-snapped Mathews 53 percent to 44 percent, logged a respectable 68 yards, but as Franciscovich suggested, as long as Mathews is 100 percent healthy, Sproles' inconsistency will be an issue for fantasy owners. Next week, Mathews faces a Washington team that has had a gaping weakness at stopping the run.
And finally. ... Lane Johnson did not win the appeal of his 10-game suspension. Johnson was previously suspended four games for a PED violation in 2014.
Johnson has played fantastic to open the season on a very good Eagles offensive line. Perhaps one of the surprises of the season is how well the blocking has held up in front of Wentz after the group struggled last year under Chip Kelly. Pro Football Focus ranks Johnson its No. 3 overall offensive tackle to start the year.
Missing Johnson until Week 16 is a massive blow for an Eagles squad in playoff positioning. How Johnson's absence affects Wentz, who has been sublime to start his rookie campaign, is something to monitor.
The team will start rookie Halapoulivaati Vaitai in Johnson's place.
QBs: Carson Wentz, Chase Daniel
RBs: Wendell Smallwood, Darren Sproles, Kenjon Barner, Ryan Mathews
WRs: Jordan Matthews, Dorial Green-Beckham, Bryce Treggs, Paul Turner, Nelson Agholor
TEs: Zach Ertz, Brent Celek, Trey Burton
Pittsburgh SteelersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 12 October 2016
As ESPN.com's Jeremy Fowler noted on Tuesday, Ben Roethlisberger looks positioned to contend for his first Most Valuable Player award in his 13th NFL season.
Fowler conceded it's a big early to make such proclamations.
But the unpredictability creates a lane for Big Ben, who is thriving in a season when Aaron Rodgers' stats are a tad down, Tom Brady can play a maximum of 12 games and Cam Newton's Panthers struggled through the first quarter.
In 2014, Roethlisberger couldn't crack the top six in voting despite passing for a career-high 4,952 yards and 32 touchdowns. But that season marked the turning point for Roethlisberger's quarterback reinvention fueled by fewer sacks and quicker strikes downfield.
After he averaged 328 passing yards per game last season, Roethlisberger's arm garners attention more than ever. Still, despite 72 career games with a 100.0 passer rating or better and 12 four-touchdown games, he's never really been in the mix for this award.
There are two common threads with quarterbacks and MVPs. They must win games, and they must score a lot. Roethlisberger has done plenty of winning, but he never has had more than 32 touchdowns in a season.
That could change in 2016, with Roethlisberger on pace for 48 touchdown passes. (He has 15 through five games.) His yards are slightly down, but he's still on pace for 4,787. And his team is 4-1.
Assuming he continues to keeps interceptions down, he'll have a case.
The past 10 MVP passing performances -- Manning (five), Rodgers (two), Brady (two), Newton, Steve McNair -- averaged 39.5 touchdowns in those trophy seasons.
Hitting those numbers requires momentum, and right now Roethlisberger has it after nine combined touchdown passes and zero interceptions against the Kansas City Chiefs and New York Jets.
Steelers teammates already treat him like an MVP. They consistently call Roethlisberger a Hall of Fame quarterback.
Running back Le'Veon Bell notices how Roethlisberger makes adjustments that are crucial to wins and losses.
Take Sunday's game against the Jets, who pressured Roethlisberger on four of his 48 dropbacks and blitzed on six of those plays. To combat the deep coverage, Roethlisberger completed 22 of 28 passes for 172 yards and three touchdowns on passes of 5 yards or fewer downfield, his most since 2013.
Many of those went to Bell.
"I wouldn't want to play with any other quarterback," Bell said. "He is a guy who is always composed in the pocket. I will watch him, even when I am running my routes, and sometimes when he doesn't throw me the ball, I am just watching him throw it to somebody else, and he just never seems rattled. ... He is so composed and always keeps his cool, and you have to respect him for that."
Roethlisberger told Fowler two years ago that although an MVP is an "awesome individual honor," he wouldn't trade one for either of his Super Bowls.
Make that three if he has his way. ...
Meanwhile, receiver Sammie Coates led the Steelers with 139 receiving yards and two touchdowns in Sunday's 31-13 win over the Jets, but he also had three drops and two others that might be argued as balls he should catch.
Roethlisberger said Coates cut his hand in the first half and needed stitches at halftime.
"That's not easy for a receiver, especially as hard as I throw the ball," Roethlisberger said. "He hurts as bad as anybody when he drops a ball. But, I want him to know you asked for what number (of drops before he looked away from Coates) there's no number. I'm going to come back to you. I believe in you. I believe in everybody on this team. And he showed why I should have that faith in him. ..."
Coates had an ace bandage wrapped around his cut hand Monday but was in what Fowler characterized as a "sizable" soft cast on Wednesday. Fowler went on to suggest he can't imagaine Coates doing much in practice this week. I'll have more on his status in the Late-Breaking Updates section as the week progresses.
The Steelers played without a starter on the offensive line for a second consecutive week, but it was barely noticeable. Chris Hubbard made his first NFL start at right tackle in place of the injured Marcus Gilbert one week after B.J. Finney made his first NFL start in place of Ramon Foster.
Roethlisberger still threw for 300 yards in each game, and the Steelers scored 74 points.
The Jets had just one sack of Roethlisberger and that came on a strip-sack fumble in the fourth quarter when wide receiver Antonio Brown ran the wrong route and Roethlisberger hung onto the ball too long
Brown and Bell each had nine receptions. It was a career high in receptions for Bell, who continues to take advantage of mismatches against linebackers.
Bell dramatically changes things for this offense. When the big play isn't there, Bell can simply find himself open and do what he did against the Jets, racking up 88 yards to accompany his 66 rushing yards. The Steelers lost a dimension when Bell got suspended for three games, but the wait was sweeter. This is Bell's best work yet with 332 total yards through two games.
DeAngelo Williams had one carry for zero yards as Bell played most of the snaps from the backfield after halftime.
Williams reportedly suffered a knee injury against the Jets while Eli Rogers (toe) missed another game.
Williams was limited Wedneaday; Rogers, however, was practicing in full on Wednesday.
I'll be following up with Williams and Rogers along with Coates in coming days. ...
In what might be a related note. ... Former Bills running back Karlos Williams signed with the Steelers practice squad on Wednesday, the team announced. Williams had previously worked out for the Steelers and Jets. He also flirted with a return to Buffalo where the former fifth-round pick rushed for 517 yards and seven touchdowns during his rookie year in 2015.
Williams can play the moment he is activated -- if he's activated, having finished his four-game suspension for violating the league's policy on substances of abuse.
QBs: Ben Roethlisberger, Landry Jones, Zach Mettenberger
RBs: Le'Veon Bell, DeAngelo Williams, Fitzgerald Toussaint, Daryl Richardson
WRs: Antonio Brown, Eli Rogers, Cobi Hamilton, Sammie Coates, Darrius Heyward-Bey
TEs: Ladarius Green, Jesse James, Xavier Grimble
San Diego ChargersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 12 October 2016
Can it get any worse? The San Diego Chargers keep finding new ways to lose, which keeps alive the uncertainty surrounding head coach Mike McCoy's job status.
On Sunday, rookie Drew Kaser botched the hold for a potential game-tying field goal late in a 34-31 loss at Oakland that dropped the Bolts to 1-4.
As Associated Press sports writer Bernie Wilson notes, it was the 10th straight AFC West loss dating to 2014 by the Chargers, who host defending Super Bowl champion Denver on Thursday night.
McCoy, whose overall record is 24-31, says he hasn't been told by his bosses whether he'll be coaching for his job Thursday night.
"The only time that's brought up is with you guys," he said during his Monday news conference. "All I'm worried about is the Denver Broncos."
General manager Tom Telesco didn't immediately respond to Wilson's request for comment about McCoy's status.
The Chargers haven't fired a coach during a season since canning Kevin Gilbride six games into the 1998 season. The Chargers also fired Don Coryell after eight games in 1986, the third year under owner Alex Spanos.
San Diego is 5-16 since John Spanos, the grandson of Alex and son of team chairman Dean Spanos, was promoted to president of football operations. While McCoy has drawn much of the ire of Chargers fans, John Spanos and Telesco are increasingly coming under fire because of their roster decisions and the fact that they hired McCoy.
The Chargers are in a malaise. They've won only five of their last 21 games, and two of those were against Jacksonville. They've lost 11 of their last 12 road games and it's been nearly 23 months since they've won a division game.
Sunday's loss saw a continuing problem, a critical lost fumble by Melvin Gordon, and a new one, a botched hold by Kaser.
Kaser, a sixth-round draft pick, also shanked a punt that led to a touchdown that gave the Raiders a 10-point lead.
Kaser's botched hold came when McCoy chose to try a field goal rather than go for it on fourth-and-1 from the Raiders' 18 with 2:07 left.
McCoy said Kaser remains the punter but that the team will explore other options at holder.
McCoy also said Gordon has to do a better job of holding onto the football.
"He's got to protect the football. He knows that. It's an unfortunate situation," McCoy said. "We put our team in bad field position. We did that a couple of times with our defense, whether it was a punt or turnovers, to put them on a short field."
A week earlier, Gordon and receiver Travis Benjamin fumbled on consecutive plays to give the Saints the opening they needed to rally from 13 down to beat the Chargers 35-34.
"You can't put the ball on the ground," McCoy said. "The last two weeks it's been on the ground too many times."
"I was conscious about it, and I don't even think a defender hit it," a befuddled Gordon said. "I have to go watch it. Walking off, I was so upset. We were driving it. I was getting into a zone. And then, it just came out."
The Chargers gave up three draft choices to move up the board to draft Gordon, a star at Wisconsin. Gordon was reached for because the Chargers needed a back they could rely on after Ryan Mathews was discarded, in part, because of fumbling issues.
McCoy said he had a talk with Lambo, and that Lambo spoke with some teammates Monday.
"He's got to learn from it," McCoy said. ...
On Tuesday, Lambo said he understood it was "a bad look" but that it was a "misinterpretation of what happened" to say that he wasn't upset about losing the game and that he's only human when it comes to laughing at things that are funny.
"In the kicking world, he's a superstar. He's a rock star," Lambo said, via the Associated Press. "He's a guy I look up to, a guy I consider a growing friend. We had a word, we had a laugh. We're people. The work day was over and he said something funny and when Sebastian Janikowski says something funny to you, you laugh. ..."
Other notes of interest. ... Rivers finished 21-of-30 for 359 yards and four touchdowns, with two interceptions, giving him 292 touchdowns for his career. That total is good for No. 9 on the NFL's career list. Rivers passed Johnny Unitas and Warren Moon. Unitas was a favorite of Rivers' grandfather, so it had added significance, even in the loss.
"You all know I'm all about the team and I'm all about winning, but I think certain names that you either pass or are up next to, I can separate the two and appreciate," Rivers said.
Tyrell Williams continues to emerge as a reliable playmaker. Williams, who is getting a chance because of an injury to Keenan Allen, had five catches for 117 yards, including a 29-yard touchdown. Benjamin had his best day as a Charger when collecting 117 yards on seven receptions against the Raiders on Sunday.
Antonio Gates played in his first game in two weeks and collected a touchdown pass from Philip Rivers. He also had a critical fumble inside the Raiders 12-yard line. And despite Gates' return, NFL.com's Matt Harmon notes that Hunter Henry out-snapped the veteran 41 to 18.
Henry has been an upgrade on the aging Gates as the starting tight end, catching five passes for 103 yards and two scores the last two weeks. Harmon believes it's fair to wonder if this should be the split going forward. ...
Dexter McCluster replaced Benjamin as the punt returner. Benjamin has struggled in the role. McCluster was limited in practice this week with a hamstring issue; he is officially listed as questionable. ...
And finally. ... DE Joey Bosa not only played but had an impact in his NFL debut. Bosa, the No. 3 overall pick in 2016 who missed the first four games after injuring a hamstring after a 31-day holdout, had two sacks against the Raiders. Bosa should see his playing time increase against Denver on Thursday night.
QBs: Philip Rivers, Kellen Clemens
RBs: Melvin Gordon, Dexter McCluster, Kenneth Farrow, Ronnie Hillman, Andre Williams
WRs: Tyrell Williams, Travis Benjamin, Dontrelle Inman, Jeremy Butler
TEs: Antonio Gates, Hunter Henry, Sean McGrath, Asante Cleveland
San Francisco 49ersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 12 October 2016
Colin Kaepernick is back.
After a four-game losing streak with Blaine Gabbert at the helm -- a stretch where the former first-round pick threw for just four touchdowns and six interceptions and posted an average passer rating of 65.1 -- the team is making a change, Chip Kelly announced on Tuesday. Kelly and the staff met earlier in the day to discuss a potential quarterback change.
Kelly said that the move had nothing to do with Kaepernick's soon-to-be altered contract status, which should negate some of the balky injury guarantees in his previous long-term deal. NFL Network's Mike Garafolo reported that he's expected to sign the new deal before he steps on the field.
"I don't deal with contracts," Kelly said. "It's got nothing to do with his contract. Football decision. I've never discussed his contract nor will I ever discuss his contract."
Kelly said that he made the announcement now to give Kaepernick as much time as possible with the first team during practice this week. Gabbert will move to the No. 2 spot and Christian Ponder remains the third-string quarterback for an offense that Kelly said needs to improve beyond the quarterback position.
"We've had a couple of days to digest everything from where we are, and I think offensively we need to be better and just make a move," Kelly said. "It's not Blaine's fault. I think as a group, offensively, we need to be better in a lot of ways."
Better quarterback play can help lift other spots, although it remains to be seen whether Kaepernick can provide it almost a year after he last started an NFL game.
Remember, Kaepernick underwent multiple surgeries this offseason and didn't have much of a presence during offseason workouts. Kelly said as recently as a week ago that Kaepernick was not heavy enough to take the field again. Kaepernick asserted that he was fine.
The surgeries underlined multiple attempts by Kaepernick to part ways with the Niners and enter into an offseason quarterbacking carousel that saw Mark Sanchez head to Denver then Dallas, and Sam Bradford eventually head to Minnesota.
Instead, the 49ers held on to their one-time superstar in the hopes that they could potentially clear a path to the playing field, which is now much easier without the weight of salary cap crippling injury guarantees hanging over the organization.
A source told NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport that Kaepernick was "just zipping the ball," signifying that his arm strength was close to normal even if his weight was not. However, Rapoport cautioned that Kaepernick has not been outplaying Gabbert in practice.
The move is more about a potential spark than anything.
Kaepernick will make his debut against Bills head coach Rex Ryan. The QB's last start came almost a year ago, back on Nov. 1, 2015, in a loss to the Rams. In 2015, he went 2-6 under center with a 59 percent completion rate, six touchdowns and five interceptions.
I'll be following up on the quarterback change via Late-Breaking Update as developments warrant in coming days. ...
Meanwhile, having allowed a running back to rush for more than 100 yards for a fourth consecutive game, Kelly assured at his Friday press conference that the club had as many negatives defensively as offensively in Thursday's 33-21 loss to the Arizona Cardinals.
"We're not happy," he said of the defensive effort, which included Cardinals running back David Johnson's 157-yard, two-touchdown rushing performance. "It starts with our run defense. We need to shore that up.
"We did an outstanding job on one of the top backs in the league in Todd Gurley in the opening game (against the Los Angeles Rams). And then after that in the next games we played, we have not done a good job in the run defense, and that's what starts everything in this league. If you can run the football, then things become a little bit easier."
Other notes of interest. ... Carlos Hyde recorded his sixth rushing touchdown of the season in the 49ers' loss Thursday to Arizona. Hyde now has TD's in three straight games, a career-first. The last 49er to rush for a score in three consecutive games was Frank Gore in December of 2011.
Hyde also had a season-high six targets and he caught every single one of them. As NFL.com's Matt Harmon notes, Hyde's development in the passing game along with 20 fourth quarter carries this season makes his value undamaged by playing on a subpar offense. Hyde already has a career-best 13 receptions. ...
Receiver Jeremy Kerley recorded the second 100-yard receiving game of his career when he hauled in eight passes for 102 yards in Thursday's loss to Arizona. Kerley had a 120-yard game for the New York Jets against New England on Oct. 21, 2012.
Kerley also caught a touchdown pass for the second straight game, the 11th of his career. Kerley, who had entered the game a bit questionable with an ankle issue, played all 78 offensive snaps.
While the playing time is unlikely to diminish, there's reason to wonder how the switch for Gabbert to Kaepernick will affect Kerley's looks. ...
And finally. ... Vance McDonald (hip) sat out his second consecutive game Thursday against Arizona. The 49ers are hoping to get their starting tight end back for their next game at Buffalo.
QBs: Colin Kaepernick, Blaine Gabbert, Christian Ponder
RBs: Carlos Hyde, Shaun Draughn, DuJuan Harris, Mike Davis, Kendall Gaskins
WRs: Jeremy Kerley, Quinton Patton, Torrey Smith, Aaron Burbridge, Rod Streater, Jerome Simpson, Eric Rogers
TEs: Vance McDonald, Garrett Celek, Blake Bell, Bruce Miller
Seattle SeahawksCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 12 October 2016
According to the Sports Xchange, the Seattle Seahawks returned from their bye week recharged and with several key players closing in on being back to full strength.
"It seems like everything worked out great," head coach Pete Carroll said. "Guys came back charged up, like you think they would, ready to go. We really are hoping to take advantage of the break with some guys getting better. A lot of guys practiced (Monday), and there was a lot of spirit and guys are cranked up and ready to get going again."
Quarterback Russell Wilson and wide receiver Tyler Lockett are two of the biggest beneficiaries of the extra week of rest. Wilson was playing through a high ankle sprain and a sprained medial collateral ligament. Lockett was also playing through a sprained knee.
"He looked fine today. He looked normal," Carroll said of Wilson.
While Wilson didn't miss any practice time and played nearly every meaningful snap despite his injuries, Seattle limited Lockett over the past two games. He was taken off kickoff-return duty and had his offensive snaps reduced in an effort to protect him from further injury.
"He feels a lot better (thanks to) the break that he had, but he's still got to get the work done and get out there and see if he can put together a great week," Carroll said. "I know he's really anxious to do that."
Now with the break in the rearview mirror, Seattle is about to enter an important stretch of the schedule.
The Seahawks will host the Atlanta Falcons and former Seattle defensive coordinator Dan Quinn on Sunday. The Falcons are staying in Seattle all week and are practicing across town at the University of Washington. They will bring the league's top-ranked offense into the Sunday matchup.
"Their offense is just out of this world right now," Carroll said. "Their quarterback is on fire. They're doing a great job. I know Dan is fired up about it, and we're excited to see him play well, and it'll feel like a championship matchup, just like we like."
After the Falcons is Seattle's first meeting this season with the Arizona Cardinals a team that was expected to contend with Seattle for the division title.
Seattle will get the benefit of having its Thursday night game in mid-December. While players aren't fond of playing two games in five days, the team will get the added benefit of few extra days off on the back end that could provide a needed reprieve after 10 more games.
In the meantime, the Seahawks will have a stiff challenge the next two weeks.
"We're excited about turning the corner and go to the second quarter (of the season)," Carroll said. "We're ready to do this.
As ESPN.com's Sheil Kapadia notes, Rawls is not expected back until Week 7 at the earliest, and it could be more like Week 9. In a perfect world, Carroll wants to use both Rawls and Michael in the backfield. But if Michael is performing better, he's going to be getting the bulk of the carries.
One thing to keep in mind with Michael. It's not just that he's running the ball well (4.60 yards per carry), but he's doing the little things, too.
He caught five passes last week and was excellent in blitz pickup. He's going to have a significant role the rest of the season.
Also worth noting. ... Jimmy Graham has made a remarkable recovery from the ruptured patellar tendon he suffered last November. In fact, Graham is making an even bigger impact than he did last season when the Seahawks struggled to incorporate him into their offense.
Graham leads all NFL tight ends with 213 yards over the last two weeks, plus a touchdown. Kapadia wrote that the biggest difference this year is Wilson getting the ball downfield to Graham. Wilson has shown more willingness to let Graham and other receivers make contested catches.
And so far, 43.8 percent of Graham's catches have come on balls that traveled more than 10 yards downfield. Last year, that number was just 31.3 percent.
"Jimmy Graham is a bad, bad man," Wilson said after the team's Week 4 game. "He can do anything. He can make any play, any catch. He's a special player."
While we're in Seattle, Kapadia said he wouldn't invest too heavily in new Seahawks running back C.J. Spiller, despite the 8-yard TD pass he caught in his Week 5 debut. Kapadia said Spiller is more of a "Band-Aid solution" right now while Rawls and rookie C.J. Prosise are dealing with injuries.
Prosise should take over as the third-down back when he is healthy in a week or two.
Prosise is having further tests on his injured wrist. A cracked bone has kept him from playing.
"Right now, he can't play in the cast that he's wearing, so he has to be able to get beyond that," Carroll said.
And finally. ... Steven Hauschka is one of just six kickers who has made every field goal he attempted this season. Hauschka is 8-for-8 on field-goal tries. His only missed kick was a blocked extra point. The coverage units have played very well.
QBs: Russell Wilson, Trevone Boykin
RBs: Thomas Rawls, Alex Collins, George Farmer, Troymaine Pope, C.J. Prosise
WRs: Doug Baldwin, Tyler Lockett, Jermaine Kearse, Paul Richardson, Tanner McEvoy
TEs: Jimmy Graham, Nick Vannett, Luke Willson
Tampa Bay BuccaneersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 12 October 2016
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers may have found a complementary running back for Doug Martin once their No. 1 back returns from a hamstring injury.
As NFL.com's Matt Franciscovich notes, they absolutely loaded the veteran backup with touches, more than any back of the week actually, and he managed a solid 128 total yards. Nobody saw this coming. It makes sense given Rodgers' history with Tampa Bay's coach Dirk Koetter from their time together in Atlanta, but still, 35 touches is more than anybody could have expected.
The Bucs (2-3), who came into the game ranked 28th in the league in rushing, made a conscious effort to move the ball on the ground early on. They handed the ball off to Rodgers on the first six plays of the game, and Rodgers had 62 rushing yards before the end of the first quarter. Tampa Bay maintained possession for 21:45 over the first two quarters en route to a 6-0 halftime lead.
"I saw him carry it about 50 times in one game at Oregon State against USC a few years back, so I knew he could do it," Koetter said.
As ESPN.com's Jenna Laine suggested, the Bucs needed him in the worst way. Heading into Week 5, their best rushing performance of the season was 62 yards from Doug Martin in Week 1. Martin missed his third consecutive game Monday night with a hamstring injury. In addition, quarterback Jameis Winston had thrown eight picks in the first four games and was simply trying to do too much.
"It's crazy, because coming in, I wasn't expecting to get the ball 30 times," Rodgers said. "But that just shows the confidence that Dirk has in me. And also, just bringing me in to be a part of this team after I got cut -- all I can do is just try to make a play for my team."
Last season, Rodgers had just 15 touches in five games with the Chicago Bears. He was among the Bears' final roster cuts this preseason and signed with the Bucs in Week 2 of the regular season, which reunited him with Koetter, his former offensive coordinator with the Atlanta Falcons.
Koetter has said the last couple weeks that he wants the team to be "more balanced" and get back to running the ball with the same efficiency as last season, when the team boasted the league's fifth-best rushing attack.
Getting behind early in games has prevented that, however. The reason the Bucs have gotten behind early in games? In part because of Winston's interceptions. Rodgers' performance Monday required patience and commitment from Koetter as a play-caller and trust in the team's run-game coordinator, George Warhop.
The plan was to run -- and run a lot -- on the opening drive. Perhaps the Panthers would start stacking the box. Maybe that would get Carolina's linebackers out of position and the Bucs could open things up later in the passing game, which they did.
"When you are on the road and the way we've been turning the ball over, we just felt like, ‘They're playing their backup quarterback.' It was, ‘Take the crowd out of it, slow the game down a little bit' -- that was the best strategy tonight," Koetter said.
Winston, who called Rodgers "dominant," was perfectly fine handing the ball off instead of passing. "He is a great addition to this team," Winston said. "He ran his tail off."
Going forward, knowing they have a running back capable of handling a heavy workload with minimal ball-security issues (he's only had three career fumbles), Rodgers affords the Bucs flexibility with Martin. Now they don't need to rush Martin back once his hamstring heals and they can ease him back into action without risking further injury.
But with the Bucs on a Week 6 bye, a Week 7 return is likely for Martin and once he's fully back Rodgers will be just a handcuff going forward.
The Buccaneers' second-round draft pick was the third-most accurate kicker in NCAA history at Florida State with 69 of 78 field goal attempts made and made all 198 extra points.
While Aguayo made a pair of 35-yarders in the first half against the Panthers for a 6-0 halftime lead, he also bounced a 33-yard attempt off the right upright in the first half and pulled a 46-yarder left in the third quarter.
After Monday night's game, Aguayo is 4 of 8 on field goals for the season, putting him last in the league in percentage (50 percent) among kickers with five or more attempts.
QBs: Jameis Winston, Mike Glennon, Ryan Griffin
RBs: Doug Martin, Peyton Barber, Jacquizz Rodgers, Charles Sims
WRs: Mike Evans, Adam Humphries, Russell Shepard, Cecil Shorts, Freddie Martino
TEs: Cameron Brate, Luke Stocker, Brandon Myers
Tennessee TitansCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 12 October 2016
The Titans believe they are ready to make a stand on their home field.
As Associated Press sports writer Teresa M. Walker noted, for a franchise that's gone a measly 2-16 at home since the end of the 2013 season, the Titans' best chance at a decent season may rest on a three-game home stand that starts Sunday against the winless Cleveland Browns.
A combined 5-27 overall the past two seasons, the Titans have beaten only Jacksonville in Nashville during that stretch and already have lost their first two home games to start this season. Now they're coming off a second straight road game by routing Miami 30-17 in a way the Titans believe is the formula to winning under head coach Mike Mularkey.
Tennessee ran for 235 yards, Marcus Mariota threw for three touchdowns and had his first game this season without an interception, and the defense had six sacks and two interceptions. DeMarco Murray leads the AFC and is second in the NFL with 461 yards rushing, while linebacker Brian Orakpo is tied for third in the league with six sacks already.
Still, this franchise hasn't strung together consecutive wins since the end of the 2013 season. It's been such a long stretch that defensive lineman Jurrell Casey couldn't recall when Tennessee last won back-to-back games, though tight end Delanie Walker remembered the occasion happening in his first season with the Titans.
Casey said this home stand offers a huge opportunity.
"This is definitely going to be a momentum kicker," Casey said. "And if we don't improve from this, then we're just going in the opposite direction and we're not looking forward to that. I think our guys are going to take this under our belt, and we're going to run with it. We've got the right mindset of the group of guys in this building to make sure we make it happen."
Cornerback Jason McCourty said the NFL is about putting together streaks.
"It's not about win a game, lose a game, win a game," McCourty said.
Tennessee's schedule provides an opportunity to build some momentum.
The Titans' three losses have come against teams with a combined 12-3 record. The next three opponents are 3-11, with Indianapolis (2-3) and Jacksonville (1-3) following Cleveland. Of the Titans' remaining 11 games, only three teams have winning records.
"That's our main focus ...," Walker said. "We want to win out in the second quarter. That's all we're thinking about. We got one win, now we got three home games, and I think it's a great opportunity to get wins at home."
Mularkey is trying to keep the Titans focused only on the Browns (0-5), a team that has beaten Tennessee each of the past two seasons. He said there's no way the Titans will look past Cleveland.
"It has to start somewhere," Mularkey said. "Our first opponent's Cleveland on Sunday, and that's all we're going to lock into."
Other notes of interest. ... As ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky notes, through 17 starts in the NFL, Mariota has rarely looked like a quarterback sorting out an equation before deciding whether or not to take off.
For the very fast, often electric runner, it's come very naturally.
The Titans haven't sent him on many option running plays since early in the season, and the bulk of his seven runs for 60 yards in Sunday's win at Miami were freelance, with only his 5-yard touchdown run designed for him to carry the ball.
The willingness to take off in Miami seemed to help him settle in for his first turnover-free game of the season.
"I think he gets maybe more comfortable, I don't know," Mularkey said. "There were a lot of times (Sunday) we gave him some options to run based on the defensive front."
But what keyed Mariota taking off was primarily the Dolphins man-to-man pass coverage which had defenders in the secondary turn their backs on the quarterback.
"It just kind of happened," Mariota said. "Some of those things are the receivers getting downfield and blocking well. A lot of it was just the pocket kind of opened up and I saw some open lanes and took off."
Running may not key his game, but in his five Sundays this season, the best passing game came when he ran the most.
He's got a green light and he should continue to use it.
While Mariota tossed the above-mentioned three touchdowns and added the fourth on the ground, NFL.com's Matt Harmon notes it was still a lackluster game in terms of passing yardage, and Murray was the second-most targeted receiver.
Delanie Walker had five catches for 66 yards and a touchdown on eight targets. Tajae Sharpe once again led the team in wide receiver snaps with an 80 percent share, but he's simply not a No. 1 receiver at this point in his career.
Kendall Wright caught just one pass Sunday, his second game back from a hamstring injury. Part of the reason was the Titans did not use their three-receiver sets except on third down, limiting the number of snaps Wright got against the Dolphins.
Murray had 121 yards on 27 carries, marking the second time in the past three games he exceeded 100 yards. His first 100-yard game against Oakland broke the Titans' 34-game streak of not having a running back go over 100 yards.
Murray dominated with 82 percent of the backfield touches and kept Derrick Henry out of the conversation as a fantasy piece. Murray is a candidate to be a top-three option at running back against the Browns this week.
QBs: Marcus Mariota, Matt Cassel, Alex Tanney
RBs: DeMarco Murray, Antonio Andrews, Derrick Henry
WRs: Rishard Matthews, Tajae Sharpe, Kendall Wright, Harry Douglas, Tre McBride
TEs: Delanie Walker, Anthony Fasano, Jace Amaro, Phillip Supernaw
Washington RedskinsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 12 October 2016
As the Sports Xchange noted this week, when Jay Gruden took over as Redskins head coach in 2014 he inherited a seemingly endless series of problems.
One of the biggest was a special-teams unit that was a complete disaster.
Gruden turned to former New York Jets special-teams coordinator Ben Kotwica, an Army veteran, to turn around that struggling group. It has taken some time, but the Redskins' special teams now are a net positive.
A prime example was Sunday's 16-10 victory over Baltimore. Jamison Crowder returned a punt 85 yards for a touchdown, Will Blackmon had another return of 45 yards on a kickoff, and Washington snuffed out a fake field-goal attempt that could have changed the direction of the contest.
That hasn't been commonplace. In one forgettable game at Dallas in 2013, former special-team coordinator Keith Burns was whistled for an interference penalty and his unit gave up two long returns that set up Cowboys touchdowns. The Redskins' punt return coverage was the NFL's worst that season. It took Gruden and Kotwica time to fix the problem. Even last year the Redskins were 31st in punt-return average.
But this season kicker Dustin Hopkins is 12 for 13 on field-goal attempts the lone miss a 56-yarder and leads the NFL in touchback percentage (79.3 percent). The Redskins are first in punt return average (24.3 yards per return), and second in kickoff return average (27.8). The coverage units rank 14th in punts and 13th on kickoffs.
"Players are making plays. They're buying into what they're supposed to do," Gruden said. "The leader of that room, (tight end) Niles Paul, is doing a good job of holding everybody accountable. Jamison Crowder, obviously, has been a dynamic guy back there as a punt returner and he has confidence that guys are going to get blocks for him."
Crowder had already set a career high with a 50-yard return in Week 3 against the New York Giants. It was the first punt return for a touchdown by a Washington player since Santana Moss on Oct. 26, 2008 a stretch of 124 regular-season games that was the longest active streak in the NFL. It's also the longest punt return since an 87-yarder by Antwaan Randle-El on Oct. 22, 2006.
Crowder was named NFC Special Teams Player of the Week on Wednesday.
"The guys are blocking a lot better. Last year, sometimes, I'd make the wrong cut, and other times, there'd be a lot of guys in my face," Crowder said. "This year, guys are doing a real good job of matching up. I'm able to catch the ball and get a lot of yardage before facing my first defender.
And the special teams are in focus this week in part because it wasn't an impressive offensive performance in Baltimore.
There was a beautiful pass to Pierre Garcon for a touchdown, but otherwise it was an unremarkable day for the Redskins and quarterback Kirk Cousins. He threw a disastrous interception that was almost a touchdown in the third quarterback.
Reed, who has endured multiple concussions dating back to college, was being evaluated for a concussion on Wednesday. I'll have more when Late-Breaking Updates begin early Thursday. ...
As for the rushing attack. ... As CSNMidAtlantic.com's PJ Finlay, Matt Jones played a decisive role for the Redskins the previous two weeks, running the ball downhill on drives that would seal wins for Washington. But Jones struggled in Biltmore and while the Ravens defense played well, No. 2 running back Robert Kelley looked sharp.
"I think you'll see more of Robert. I think Robert shows that he's deserving of some carries," Gruden said Monday. "You know, we like Matt Jones, but I think there's a good combination there where the both of them can get the ball."
In Baltimore, Jones ran 14 times for 31 yards and fumbled the ball once. It was a much smaller sample size, but Kelley ran the ball three times for 18 yards. It wasn't just the stats, Kelley looked more decisive cutting behind the Redskins offensive line, and has a habit of falling forward for additional yards that sometimes eludes Jones.
Fans should not get confused - Jones is still the Redskins starting runner. Gruden just wants the undrafted rookie Kelley to get more chances.
"Depending on how many carries Matt gets, Robert, obviously, we want to mix him in there to keep Matt fresh and keep Robert fresh and get a different look from time to time. Robert had a couple of good hits, he really did. So I think he deserves a couple more shots."
Kelley did not record a carry for Washington until Week 3 in New York, and in that game he was admittedly too excited to produce. With only one touch against Cleveland, Kelley did not show much either in Week 4. The Baltimore game was his biggest opportunity, and Kelley clearly did enough to convince the head coach he should get more chances.
Chris Thompson put up 45 yards on six total touches, but he remains a waiver-wire guy at this point.
Washington will have another tough running back matchup against the Eagles next week, so Jones owners will probably want to leave him on the bench.
QBs: Kirk Cousins, Colt McCoy, Nate Sudfeld
RBs: Robert Kelley, Chris Thompson, Matt Jones, Keith Marshall
WRs: DeSean Jackson, Jamison Crowder, Pierre Garcon, Maurice Harris, Ryan Grant, Rashad Ross, Josh Doctson
TEs: Jordan Reed, Vernon Davis, Niles Paul
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