Team Notes Week 10 2017
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 7 November 2017
There was no question that things were going to change when quarterback Carson Palmer broke his arm in London two weeks ago and the offense was handed to Drew Stanton.
But after Sunday's game against the San Francisco 49ers, ESPN.com's Josh Weinfuss believes it's clear what the blueprint should be for the Cardinals' offense as long as Stanton is under center.
"Run. Run. Run. Run," Weinfuss wrote. "And then run some more."
Yes, Stanton threw a 52-yard bomb to John Brown on the first play of the game, but after that, he turned the stage over to Adrian Peterson and stepped out of the spotlight, managing the offense in a 20-10 win with 201 yards, two touchdowns and one interception on 15-of-30 passing. Stanton wasn't asked to be the hero Sunday. He just had to make sure the offense didn't jump the tracks.
Peterson, however, was asked to carry the offensive workload -- quite literally.
"The ball's not very heavy," Arians said.
In the process, Peterson set a career high with 37 carries and showed the Cardinals that he can be the focal point of the game plan with Stanton at the helm.
"He's not a normal 32-year-old running back," Stanton said. "I think we all knew what he was capable of. We saw that from day one when he got here. We talked about it when we were in London. He is a Hall of Famer for a reason, and he's got a lot left in the tank, and he said that, and now he's backed it up multiple times.
"We came in here and wanted to run the ball. I think that's what you talk about within this offense all the time. [Arians] alludes to it. We need to be able to run the football, in physical play-action, and reduce shots."
Peterson said he knew his number of carries was somewhere in the 30s, but he wasn't keeping track. But the more he ran, the better he felt.
Being able to establish the run game early, as the Cardinals did Sunday, helps not just the passing game but also the play-action part of the scheme. That, in turn, opens up Arians' downfield passing attack.
With Peterson rebounding from a 21-yard outing against the Los Angeles Rams with 159 yards -- and he felt he left more than 100 yards on the field -- the Cardinals look committed to the run game. That's more important than people might think because Arians admittedly has abandoned the run too quickly at times this season. But with Peterson, Arians would be shorting the offense if he stops calling runs too early, especially when Peterson runs like he did Sunday.
"I feel good," Peterson said. "I feel good. Body held up. Got twisted up a couple times. But for just, like, endurance and strength throughout the game, I felt great."
Arians called Peterson's impact on Stanton a "give and take." The Cardinals just happened to give the ball to Peterson more than they threw it. But running a good amount was the plan, and as long as Arians likes certain matchups -- he liked the matchup of Peterson against the Niners' edge defenders -- the run game should continue to be the centerpiece of the offense.
"I think the league is a run-first mentality," Stanton said. "Everyone wants to run the football. It's just a matter of if you can. We're healthy enough on the offensive line. Those guys did a tremendous job, and it makes their job easier.
"Those guys played extremely well, and that balance allows us to do a lot of different things."
Peterson forced eight missed tackles and ran for 110 of his 159 yards after contact, according to Profootballfocus.com.
By establishing an effective ground attack, Arizona helped reduce the pressure on Stanton. The Cards' offensive line surrendered two hurries, no hits and no sacks.
As Weinfuss suggested, Peterson got in the type of groove Sunday that shooters find when the basket looks as big as the ocean. When he got going -- he had 79 yards on 17 carries by halftime -- he didn't want to come out. Arians tried to give him a break and insert Kerwynn Williams, but Peterson kept insisting that he was good.
"It's amazing," Arians said. "Absolutely amazing. He's in unbelievable shape."
But the question this week will be how quickly Peterson can get his body back so he can handle that type of workload again, which could be particularly challenging with a quick turnaround Thursday night against the Seahawks.
"We'll see how he feels Monday and Tuesday," Arians said. "But I wish we had a full week. Obviously, we won't be able to feed him that many times in that Thursday night that quickly."
Or will they?
Peterson said he'll get some work on his body early this week -- "beat up the body a little more and give myself some time to recover" -- and should be ready to go against Seattle.
As long as Arians commits to the run, Peterson will be ready and willing to handle the rest. As long as the offensive line stays healthy, the Cardinals have a game plan that will work with Stanton under center: Let Peterson wear down the defense.
"That's what it's all about," Peterson said. "That's the mindset that I always had since I came in the league: Wear those guys down, and see if they can do it for four quarters. That's something that they then question themselves. When it's the fourth quarter and I'm still coming in there, what are you going to do?"
For the 49ers, the answer was "not much." We'll see what the Seahawks have to offer. ...
For what it's worth, the Cardinals had a penchant for running to the left against the 49ers. They ran 23 of their 40 run plays to the left of center, according to PFF.
Of their 167 rushing yards, 122 were gained behind the left side of the offensive line. When he ran left, Peterson was able to break runs of 16, 18 and 25 yards. ...
Also. ... Peterson reached the 12,000-yard rushing mark in his 130th career game, becoming the fourth-fastest to get there in NFL history. Only Hall of Famers Jim Brown (115), Eric Dickerson (118) and Barry Sanders (125) got there faster.
Peterson also moved into 14th place on the NFL's all-time rushing list with 12,142 yards, surpassing Thurman Thomas (12,074) and Franco Harris (12,120). He is now 102 yards from also surpassing Marcus Allen (12,243) for 13th in league history and 106 yards from moving past Edgerrin James (12,246) for 12th place. Also in reach are Marshall Faulk (12,279) and Jim Brown (12,312).
Larry Fitzgerald, seven catches for 70 yards, moved past Hall of Famer Tim Brown into sixth place on the all-time list with 14,953 receiving yards. ...
Fitzgerald's nine targets led the way; nobody else got more than four looks, although both John Brown and Jaron Brown made big plays on their lone catches. ...
Tight end Jermaine Gresham had a tidy and efficient game with two catches, including one for a touchdown, on three targets. ...
Stanton, meanwhile, showed his mobility on a couple of occasions Sunday against San Francisco. The first came when he rolled out to his right, kept running, and eventually found Jaron Brown in the end zone for a 3-yard touchdown pass. The second time came in the fourth quarter when he kept the ball on a read option and ran for five yards on a third-and-1.
"You saw the speed, right?" Stanton joked. "I used to be fast. Ten years ago. ..."
Phil Dawson has now missed six field goals, including four from inside 40 yards. Two of the misses came after low snaps in the past two games, but that's no excuse, according to general manager Steve Keim, who called the entire field-goal unit "a major disappointment."
And finally. ... Arians told reporters on Wednesday that rookie running back T.J. Logan could come off injured reserve soon. Logan, who suffered a dislocated wrist in August, will try to field punts next week with a brace on and "see where he's at."
If that happens, that’s one of the team's two IR to return spots, meaning it would officially rule out either Palmer or David Johnson for the rest of the season.
QBs: Drew Stanton, Mike Glennon, Sam Bradford
RBs: Elijhaa Penny
WRs: Larry Fitzgerald, J.J. Nelson, Brice Butler, Chad Williams
TEs: Jermaine Gresham, Ricky Seals-Jones
Atlanta FalconsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 7 November 2017
According to ESPN.com's Vaughn McClure, Matt Ryan expressed confidence that his 4-4 team can turn it around despite a rocky first half of the season.
The Falcons entered the season as the NFC's favorite after losing to New England in the Super Bowl. But now, they find themselves in third place in the NFC South behind New Orleans (6-2) and Carolina (6-3), in large part because of a sputtering offense.
"Well, I think it's fair to say we have a lot of work to do," Ryan said during his weekly radio show on 680 The Fan. "I think we're halfway through the season. Like they say all the time, they don't give the trophy out at this time of the year."
The Falcons started the season 3-0 but have dropped four of their past five, including Sunday's 20-17 loss to Carolina in their NFC South opener.
"I think we can be better than we've played up until this point," Ryan said. "I think we are better than we've played up until this point. I think we've played mediocre, but yet I don't think we're a mediocre team. I think we can be a very good football team."
The Falcons averaged a league-best 33.8 points per game last season under former offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan. This season they're averaging 21.3 points per game under new coordinator Steve Sarkisian. They haven't been efficient on third down. They've turned the ball over too many times, with Ryan already throwing seven interceptions -- as many as he had in 2016. And they've struggled in short-yardage situations for reasons ranging from the offensive line getting dominated, Sarkisian's play-calling not being up to par or players not making plays.
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"I remain very confident," Ryan said. "I really feel like we've got a good group of guys, guys that are working hard and doing the right things during the week. And guys that are going to make plays for us in this next, eight-game stretch. I really believe that. And I hope that comes to fruition for us."
The Falcons entered Week 9 with the second-most difficult remaining strength of schedule with opponents having a .591 winning percentage. Next up is Sunday's home matchup with the Dallas Cowboys (5-3), followed by a road showdown with the Seattle Seahawks (5-3). The only opponent left on the schedule with a sub-.500 record is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-6).
"We've got all NFC teams left, which is a good thing for us to make some headway in the division and certainly in the conference," Ryan said. "But none of that matters. All that matters is finding a way to get it done versus Dallas this week, a team that is very, very talented."
Of course, it would help if Julio Jones was a bigger part of the game plan on a consistent basis.
It would also help if he caught all the passes thrown his way.
Jones made no excuses for dropping what would have been a 39-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter of Sunday's loss.
"I didn't take advantage of the opportunity," Jones told reporters following the game. "It was no excuses or anything like that. It's just a missed [opportunity]."
Jones had six catches for a season-high 118 yards in the game, but the only topic of conversation afterward was the drop. He was 5 yards ahead of the defense before he bobbled the pass from Ryan. After the drop, Jones remained sprawled across the back of the end zone for a moment and appeared to cover his face in shame.
Despite that uncharacteristic and costly drop, Jones remains arguably the most dominant deep threat in the game.
He hasn't earned as many opportunities this season as most have become accustomed to seeing, but Jones always makes opposing defensive coordinators think twice. He catches passes in traffic. He's nimble near the sideline. He can take a 5-yard catch and turn it into a 50-yard gain. Through eight games, Jones leads the Falcons with 43 catches for 658 yards, but he has just one touchdown.
Expect his touchdown total to increase in the second half of the season, provided he remains healthy -- although right, now he's not that.
Quinn said Jones may be limited on Wednesday with a lower leg injury.
Devonta Freeman also may be limited with an undisclosed injury. Quinn said Freeman did not aggravate a shoulder injury he suffered in a win over the Jets on Oct. 29.
In addition, Matt Bryant's status for this week's game against Dallas is uncertain after he hurt his right calf during warmups before the team's loss at Carolina.
Bryant's availability for longer field goals was in question after he felt pain in the calf while kicking a 53-yard field goal in the first quarter on Sunday. He said he first felt discomfort in the calf when he went back onto the field for extra kicks following the national anthem.
"I go back out there and get a couple more kicks and that's when I felt something not be 100 percent right," Bryant said.
Bryant said making the 53-yarder "was a challenge." He said he also felt the injury on extra points.
Quinn said Monday that Bryant's injury influenced crucial decisions on two fourth down calls against the Panthers.
The Falcons had possessions end at the Panthers 35 and 39 in the second and fourth quarters, respectively. With a healthy Bryant, each drive may have ended in field goal attempts.
"That's what held us back," Quinn said. "When we knew he was limited a little bit we didn't want to try to extend him for the long ones. We were able to do that early, but we weren't going to do that as the game progressed."
Instead of attempting field goals of about 52 and 56 yards, the Falcons went for first downs on the fourth down plays. They were stopped on each play.
"That contributed to us going for some of the ones we did," Quinn said. "Normally if Matt is in range we give him the green light. We trust him so much."
Bryant was seen talking with Quinn on the sideline after the 53-yard field goal.
Asked about if he'll be able to kick in this week's game against the Cowboys, Bryant said "From what I've been told yes, there's a chance."
Bryant has made 15 of 18 field goal attempts this season, including 9 of 10 from over 40 yards. He surpassed Hall of Famer Morten Andersen's franchise scoring record midway through the 2016 season. ...
For the record, Bryant and Jones didn't practice Wednesday (although the wideout was on the field for the walkthrough portion); Freeman was limited.
I'll be following up on all involved via Late-Breaking Update in coming days, but it's worth noting the Falcons re-signed kicker Mike Meyer to the practice squad and released quarterback Garrett Grayson. ...
Also of interest. ... Ryan had a decent day against Carolina, but didn't make enough plays to drag the Falcons to victory. He completed 24 of 36 passes for 313 yards, two touchdowns and an interception.
The game was Ryan's 43rd career 300-yard passing game and the 77th multi-touchdown game of his career. Ryan also continued his streak of games with at least 200-plus passing yards to 63 games, while moving his passing touchdown streak to 26 games.
Sunday was Jones' 37th career 100-yard game - two away from the franchise record.
The Falcons had rushed for more than 100 yards in the previous six games, but were held to 53 yards against the Panthers.
As NFL.com's Matt Franciscovich noted, despite concerns about a shoulder injury coming into the game, Freeman played as Atlanta's primary back on Sunday against the Panthers. He played 67 percent of the Falcons snaps and logged 11 carries for 46 yards adding 18 receiving yards on his four receptions.
Coleman only had six touches in the game but ended up scoring late in the fourth quarter on 19-yard catch and run. Coleman had just five rush yards on five carries.
Sunday's was Coleman's second receiving touchdown pass of the season.
Mohamed Sanu caught his third receiving touchdown of the season.
Over the last five games Austin Hooper he has target totals of seven, nine, one, six and six targets. Hooper has 25 catches for 331 yards and two touchdowns on the year.
QBs: Matt Ryan, Matt Schaub, Matt Simms
RBs: Devonta Freeman, Tevin Coleman, Terron Ward
WRs: Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu, Justin Hardy, Nick Williams
TEs: Austin Hooper, Eric Saubert, Logan Paulsen
Baltimore RavensCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 7 November 2017
According to ESPN.com's Jamison Hensley, a dejected Joe Flacco summed up the state of the Baltimore Ravens' struggling offense after coming up short in Sunday's 23-20 loss to the Tennessee Titans.
"You can't play too much worse than we've been playing," Flacco said.
Dejected fantasy owners would agree.
Baltimore is heading to its bye at 4-5 and falling out of the playoff race because of its stagnant offense. The Ravens have scored a total of five offensive touchdowns in their five losses.
How bad has it gotten? The biggest play for the Ravens on Sunday was a fake punt. Baltimore got 31 yards on a 16-yard pass from punter Sam Koch and an additional 15 yards for a face mask penalty.
Flacco and the Ravens' offense failed to produce a play of 20 yards or longer, and they tripped over themselves when they tried. Each of Flacco's two interceptions Sunday came on throws of 15 yards or more yards downfield (one was the fault of receiver Breshad Perriman not fighting for the ball), and Flacco now has a league-high seven interceptions on deep balls this season.
Flacco attempted 52 passes against the Tennessee Titans. That has been a recipe for failure.
Baltimore is 0-7 when Flacco he attempts 50 or more passes against an opponent. He was 34 of 52 for 261 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions in a 23-20 loss to the Titans.
Flacco is ranked 31st in the NFL with a 72.7 passer rating.
"We need some spark plays," wide receiver Mike Wallace said. "It's going to be hard to win a game just chipping the way the whole time. You have to make big plays to win a football game 90 percent of the time. We're not getting them. We have too many players on our team for us not to be moving the ball. Whatever we got to do to fix it, we got to do."
The Ravens were held out of the end zone for 3 1/2 quarters, and the two touchdowns in the last nine minutes shouldn't overshadow the game-long problems to extend drives. Baltimore didn't cross midfield on six of its first eight drives and finished 6-of-16 on third downs (38 percent).
"We just got to do more in the first half," head coach John Harbaugh said. "We're not doing two things. We're not sustaining drives so we're not giving ourselves a chance to make enough opportunities to make plays and we're not making plays downfield."
Overall, the Ravens are averaging 15.2 points in losses this season.
"We're not going to get everything corrected overnight," Flacco said. "But we are making progress. You got a lot of guys who want to do it. We just have to keep our heads down and have faith that we're going to come out of this thing. We got players who want to be good and want to do the right things. When you have that, you always have a shot."
How about running back Alex Collins?
Yes, a player who was cut by the Seahawks and wasn't on Baltimore's season-opening roster has turned into the player the Ravens could least afford to lose (beside Flacco). With his aggressive running style and ability to cut back, Collins is the most consistent playmaker on the Ravens.
He is averaging 5.6 yards per carry and has produced 10 runs of 15 yards or more (second only to Kareem Hunt). Collins has been the best player on what has been one of the worst offenses in the NFL.
Breshad Perriman is on the other end of that spectrum. This was expected to be a breakout season for the former first-round pick, especially with his performance in the offseason workouts. Instead, Perriman's struggles have hampered the overall production of the offense. He has struggled with drops. In addition, several balls that deflected off him have turned into costly interceptions. Perriman has just seven catches for 54 yards and has yet to score a touchdown.
According to the Sports Xchange, his future in Baltimore is in jeopardy.
Given the overall offensive issues, it's worth noting the Ravens have made in-season changes at offensive coordinator a couple of times under Harbaugh and some have wondered if Marty Mornhinweg might get dispatched as the team looks for an offensive approach that leads to consistent success.
According to Profootballtalk.com, Harbaugh was asked about that at his Monday press conference and called it a "fair question" before saying that he didn't see the situation with the offense is as dire as others might think. Harbaugh said he sees "an identity to this offense" and is "excited" about what the team has to build on after a 4-5 start to the season.
"So, there's no doubt in my mind that we can be a very successful offense throughout the rest of the season," Harbaugh said. "We show enough flashes of it based on the tape, based on the way I see guys are playing, and who we've had and haven't had out there, that I feel that we're going to be able to do that. I have a lot of confidence in the coaching staff, I have a lot of confidence in the players, and I can see the way forward."
If the Ravens are going to put something better together, work they do during their bye week will likely be an important part of the puzzle.
They have time and expect to get running backs Terrance West and Danny Woodhead back when they return to action against the Packers in Week 11.
Woodhead (hamstring) practiced Tuesday but wouldn't say when he is planning to return to a game.
"I'm feeling good but I understand there's a process," Woodhead said. ...
Should they make good on Harbaugh's optimistic view, the Ravens could work their way into the playoff mix in the AFC. If they can't, it will be harder to avoid a chance to the offensive coaching staff as the unit should be a major focus of attention in the offseason.
QBs: Joe Flacco, Ryan Mallett, Dustin Vaughan, Robert Griffin III
RBs: Terrance West, Javorius Allen
WRs: Michael Crabtree, John Brown, Breshad Perriman, Chris Moore, Kenny Bell
TEs: Maxx Williams, Nick Boyle, Gavin Escobar
Buffalo BillsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 7 November 2017
According to Kelvin Benjamin had a jersey and pads ready for him at his MetLife Stadium locker stall Thursday night, and when the Buffalo Bills' wide receivers ran through their initial pregame warm-ups about two hours before kickoff, Benjamin was part of that group.
Yet when the Bills took the field for what became a 34-21 loss to the New York Jets, Benjamin was on the sideline. There simply was not enough time to integrate him into the offense after a surprising Tuesday trade that plucked him from the Carolina Panthers in the middle of the season and landed him in Buffalo.
"He really only had a short amount of time to get up to speed," head coach Sean McDermott said after the game. "The guys that did play put in time during the week, and so we wanted to do things the right way as far as that goes."
And as ESPN.com's Mike Rodak suggested, unless Benjamin could block for LeSean McCoy (held to 25 rushing yards), keep pass-rushers off Tyrod Taylor (sacked seven times) or tackle Jets ball carriers, it is not likely the fourth-year wideout being active would have made much of a difference in what was a total team loss for the Bills.
However, Benjamin's addition to the lineup against the New Orleans Saints at New Era Field this week can be viewed as a silver lining for a Bills team, now 5-3, that was embarrassed on national television Thursday.
Not only will be Benjamin be in the Bills' lineup, but there is a chance top tight end Charles Clay will play in Week 10 for the first time since tearing the meniscus and spraining the MCL in his left knee in an Oct. 8 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals.
Clay had a timetable of four to six weeks to return from the injury, but he made an appearance at practice last week before the Bills hosted the Oakland Raiders. Clay, who remains the Bills' leading receiver (258 yards) despite missing the past three games, was put through a workout by trainer Shone Gipson and strength and conditioning coach Eric Ciano not long after the Bills arrived at MetLife Stadium on Thursday evening.
The Bills' problems against the Jets extended well beyond their passing offense. In fact, the normally maligned phase of Buffalo's game was a relative bright spot, outside of the problems with pass protection and fumbles by Taylor, tight end Nick O'Leary and wide receiver Jordan Matthews.
Taylor completed 29 of 40 passes for 285 yards and two touchdowns, his highest yardage output of the season. Part of that can be attributed to Taylor's 122 fourth-quarter passing yards as the Jets defense dialed it back with a comfortable lead. But Taylor completed 71 percent of his passes and averaged 7.8 yards per attempt through the first three quarters and avoided throwing an interception the entire game.
Taylor finished the game with a 108.9 passer rating, his second-best of the season.
There is much intrigue about how Benjamin will affect Taylor's performance the remainder of the season and his fate next offseason.
Having a legitimate No. 1 wide receiver is also expected to help the Bills' chances to make the playoffs. Remember: Benjamin immediately becomes Buffalo's leader with 475 yards receiving, which account for nearly a third of the team's 1,628-yard total.
He is in line to play opposite starter Matthews.
"He's a receiver that makes our offense better, and I have confidence in the group of receivers before we brought in Kelvin," said McDermott, who spent the previous six seasons as Carolina's defensive coordinator. "Now, I see the group improving because of Kelvin."
Benjamin said he doesn't feel any added pressure joining a team that is off to a better than expected start and in contention to end a 17-year playoff drought -- the longest active streak in North America's four major professional sports.
"Not at all because they've been winning without me," he said. "I'm just coming in to help. That's all I want to do."
Despite last Thursday night's sloppy loss, Benjamin serves as a 6-5, 245-pound reminder that hope still exists for Buffalo this season. ...
Worth noting. ... Easing Benjamin's transition are numerous familiar faces in Buffalo. Aside from McDermott and Webb, fullback Mike Tolbert, cornerback Leonard Johnson and general manager Brandon Beane have previous ties to Carolina. Benjamin also grew up with Bills receiver Deonte Thompson in central Florida. ...
Other notes of interest. ... Rookie wide receiver Zay Jones has had a difficult season, but he reached the halfway point on the upswing. He set career highs with six catches for 53 yards against the Jets, and he also scored his first NFL touchdown, a 10-yard grab in the second quarter. Jones looked more confident in his route running, and he caught everything he could get his hands on, which had been a problem earlier.
On the downside, he hurt his knee in the game and had to be helped off the field, and while he did return to play, his status moving forward after the weekend off will have to be monitored.
For the record, Jones was not practicing Wedneday; Clay was working on a limited basis. I'll follow up on both via Late-Breaking Update in coming days. ...
As Rodak put it, "I wouldn't call LeSean McCoy the Bills' best player so far this season -- he's averaging just 3.7 yards per carry, the lowest of his career -- but he is their most indispensable player, if they want to compete for a playoff spot."
No doubt. McCoy's backup, Tolbert, is averaging 3.8 yards per carry but would be miscast in a lead role in the backfield. For a team that gains 38.5 percent of its yards through running, fifth most in the NFL, the Bills would have to reinvent their offense if McCoy went down.
McCoy has two 100-yard games, but he's also had games of 9, 21 and 25 yards, and the Bills lost two of those games. The Bills must run well to be effective on offense, and there's been too much inconsistency.
In addition, as NFL.com's Matt Franciscovich wrote, "McCoy remains one of the elite running backs in all of fantasy. He remains a weekly must-start, especially (this) week against the Saints, and might be a buy-low target after a slow game. ..."
And finally. ... Running back Taiwan Jones suffered a broken right arm last Thursday night and McDermott said Friday that he will be out for the rest of the season.
QBs: AJ McCarron, Nathan Peterman
RBs: LeSean McCoy, Chris Ivory, Mike Tolbert, Joe Banyard, Taiwan Jones
WRs: Kelvin Benjamin, Zay Jones, Andre Holmes, Corey Brown, Brandon Tate
TEs: Charles Clay, Nick O'Leary, Logan Thomas
Carolina PanthersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 7 November 2017
Offensive coordinator Mike Shula knew exactly what Cam Newton was going to do as soon as he broke the pocket and started running toward the end zone.
From there, it was just a matter of Shula holding his breath.
Newton completed a 9-yard touchdown run on Sunday with a highlight reel leap into the end zone, stretching the ball across the goal line and essentially dunking on cornerback Desmond Trufant. The quarterback landed safely on his surgically repaired right shoulder and got up to wildly celebrate Carolina's go-ahead touchdown in a game they would eventually win 20-17 to improve to 6-3.
"Every now and again, is it a little precarious? Yes," Shula said of Newton running the ball. "It's like living on the edge."
Despite talk from head coach Ron Rivera this past summer about limiting Newton's carries to prevent wear and tear on his quarterback's body, the 2015 league MVP has taken it upon himself to breathe some life into a stagnant running game.
Newton has led the team in rushing four straight games, including Sunday when he gained 86 yards on nine carries. He's averaged 10 carries per game over that span, the vast majority on scrambles rather than designed runs.
"I'm just trying to win football games at a fast and rapid pace," Newton said after the win Sunday.
Perhaps we should have seen this coming when Newton responded to Rivera's remarks about limiting his running in July by saying, "Are you really going to expect a lion not to roar?"
As Associated Press sports writer Steve Reed noted, the lion is roaring again.
His 69 carries in nine games are only 21 shy of the 90 he had a year ago in 15 games. If he continues at his pace of the past four games (9.75 carries per game) and stays healthy through 16 games, he'll finish with a career-high 137 carries.
Newton is on pace to run for more than 600 yards and eight touchdowns this season.
In addition, 67 of Newton's yards against Atlanta came on six designed rushes. He is averaging 44 yards on 5.5 designed runs per game over the past four weeks after averaging 10 yards on 2.4 rushes the first five games, according to ESPN Stats and Information research.
When asked if the Panthers still want to limit Newton's hits, Shula replied, "Sure, but if he runs the ball and slides is that a hit? Or are you exposing him? I guess my point is it's a fine line that we walk."
It's a line the Panthers have been walking since Newton came into the league as the No. 1 pick in 2012.
On one hand the Panthers don't want to risk getting their $102.5 million quarterback hurt on an unnecessary run. On the other, they have a unique weapon in the physically imposing 6-foot-5, 245-pounder that is difficult to defend. Newton has piled up 3,907 yards and 52 touchdowns on the ground —the most by a quarterback in NFL history -- in 6 ½ seasons.
Both Shula and Rivera take solace in the notion that Newton is -- his diving touchdown notwithstanding -- getting smarter when he runs.
He's finally learned a proper baseball slide. And he's doing a better job of getting out of bounds and avoiding contract when multiple defenders surround him. That was never more evident than Sunday when he culminated a 34-yard run with a slide in the open field as tacklers converged.
He did the same thing on a couple of shorter runs.
"You can see it by the way he gets down prior to hits, and running out of bounds or sliding," Rivera said of Newton playing smarter. "He was a little bit on the exciting side when he leaped to get the touchdown. That was a little too much, but I'm not going to stop him."
The Panthers have also come to realize that the natural high Newton gets from making a big play with his feet often translates into him and his offensive teammates playing better.
"He played very emotionally on Sunday, which I think really spills over to the team," Rivera said. "I think guys picked up on his energy and I think that is terrific. That is when he is at his best, when he plays emotionally."
Added Shula: "If you ask him, he would probably want to run it more. I don't want to ask him that question because I think I know the answer. But it is part of his game, and if you take that away I think you are taking a piece of him and his game away. So it's a delicate balance. ..."
Worth noting. ... Newton admitted to reporters Wednesday that he still has pain "from time to time" in his surgically repaired shoulder. ...
Meanwhile, Devin Funchess passed his first test as Carolina's No. 1 wide receiver.
Thrust into the top receiver role after the Kelvin Benjamin trade, Funchess led the Panthers with five receptions for 86 yards in a 20-17 win over Atlanta and had the team's two longest plays in the passing game, running after catches for gains of 24 and 33 yards.
"That's what he can do," Newton said. "He can give you those yards after catch. He's very savvy, and he's just grown into that role and that's what you love to see."
The 86 yards are the second best of Funchess' four-year career, behind only a 120-yard game against Tampa Bay during the 2015-16 season.
As NFL.com's Matt Harmon noted, rookie receiver Curtis Samuel clearly saw a usage bump with Benjamin out of the picture. The rookie led the wide receivers by going out for 76 percent of the team's plays. Samuel drew five looks from Newton, and had a mix of deep and short passes with an 8.2 average air yards on his targets.
In addition, rookie Christian McCaffrey, in Carolina's first game without Benjamin, was on the field for 82 percent (53 of 65) of the offensive snaps. Jonathan Stewart took 32 percent (21 of 65) of the snaps. The previous week with Benjamin on the field McCaffrey took 58 percent (38 of 65) snaps and Stewart 43 percent (28 of 65).
According to ESPN.com's David Newton, the first-round pick has become almost as valuable to this offense as Cam Newton because he plays so many positions (running back, slot receiver, wide receiver, wildcat). He leads the team in receptions, and he's coming off his best game as a runner.
McCaffrey had several notables against Atlanta, including his first rushing touchdown. The rookie also picked up a career-high 66 rushing yards, including a career-long carry of 17 yards.
He also opens up other opportunities for other players when he serves as a decoy. With Stewart struggling to be effective as a runner, McCaffrey's value is even greater.
QBs: Cam Newton, Derek Anderson
RBs: Christian McCaffrey, Fozzy Whittaker, Cameron Artis-Payne
WRs: Devin Funchess, Russell Shepard, Torrey Smith, Brenton Bersin
TEs: Greg Olsen
Chicago BearsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 7 November 2017
At the halfway point of the season, the bye came at an ideal time for self-scouting by quarterback Mitchell Trubisky.
As the Sports Xchange suggests, the numbers don't say much for his progress, but the 2-2 record as a rookie starter meant more to both Trubisky and the Bears.
"I just need to be more efficient and continue to take care of the football, but be aggressive at the same time," Trubisky said.
Both of Trubisky's interceptions in 80 attempts resulted in the game-clinching plays for Bears opponents. He had high points, as well, like the key first-down pass to Kendall Wright to set up the game-winning field goal in overtime against Baltimore.
Considering Trubisky wasn't even supposed to be playing this season, head coach John Fox was willing to count it as a success when Trubisky finished four games with a worse passer rating (66.2) than opening-day starter Mike Glennon had (76.9) for the same number of games, and also a completion percentage below .500 (38-for-80).
"What you have to understand is every one of those plays is an experience and a guy like him or a guy in his position, as well, they're going to learn from those experiences," Fox said.
"And there's nothing like (it). You can practice all you want, you can go virtual reality, but there's nothing like real life. So those are real-life experiences for him and I think he's handled it very well, and he'll continue to get better for it."
Specifically, Trubisky saw how the offense can make plays late in games, and things he can do individually to ensure better chances of finishing with positive results.
"The two-minute trifecta," Trubisky called it. "Coming out with a positive drive-starter, no negative plays and then have an explosive play. And then usually that results in good plays for us.
"So we can get that and keep getting better and finish in the end zone with points, whatever the situation is. That's what we need to do."
Trubisky said play-action passes and quarterback keepers resulted in bigger plays.
"A lot of the incompletions were throwaways," Trubisky said. "But we can just be higher percentage in those areas and continue to be better on third down."
In terms of mechanics, Trubisky noted areas where he can also improve.
"When my feet are right and my eyes are right, I'm on the money, but when I change up or do the wrong footwork or my base isn't good because of the rush in the pocket, that's usually when the inaccuracies come," he said. "Just continue to work on my base and my footwork and doing the right drops and have my eyes in the right spot and I'm usually on the money."
Of particular note: Trubisky struggled to stretch the field in New Orleans, completing just 1 of 7 passes thrown 15 or more yards downfield for 45 yards and an interception.
In Trubisky's first three games, he went 7-for-11 for two touchdowns when attempting throws that traveled 15-plus yards downfield, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
Although Trubisky is behind in terms of preparation - following a training camp and first four games when he was a backup - he didn't anticipate staying at Halas Hall the entire four days of the bye weekend.
"I think everyone needs a break every once in a while," he said. "It's good to sit back and relax and let your mind relax and just refocus and put your goals in place to chase next week. I'm going to sit back, look in the mirror, and be ready to come back to work next week ..."
Meanwhile, Trubisky came away with a positive impression of his new wide receiver, Dontrelle Inman, after three practices.
"He's got a big frame and he runs really good routes, so he's a guy to throw to," Trubisky said. "He's very ball-savvy, so (we'll) just continue to rep that chemistry along with the other guys and we're going to continue to get better."
Only 53 of the Bears' 133 completions went to wide receivers in the first half of the season, an indication of how depleted they've been at the wide receiver position. Due to injuries, they are now without four of their top five receivers: Kevin White, tight end Zach Miller, Cameron Meredith and Markus Wheaton, although it's possible Wheaton, who worked on a limited basis Wednesday, could soon return from a groin injury.
Trubisky saw a need to get more reps with receiver Tre McBride as well, following a 92-yard receiving day against New Orleans. It was the best day in terms of yardage by a Bears receiver this season.
"It's not like we've been throwing together for a long time, so we still need to build that chemistry, get on the same page and once we really start to know each other, know where I'm going to put the ball, know where they're going to be in the routes," Trubisky said. "Then you'll start to see more explosive plays in the offense and we'll just start rolling more."
With four missed field goals, all from 40-51 yards, kicker Connor Barth is one player whose future appears in jeopardy. It wouldn't be surprising for the Bears to audition kickers during the bye, but they aren't saying it's the plan. In preseason, they gave Robert Aguayo a look, but he struggled and Barth was retained.
"You know you drive the ball down there, you want to come away with points and on four occasions unfortunately we haven't," Fox said. ...
Eighth in rushing (130.1 yards per game) thanks to running backs Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen, the Bears have nowhere to go but up when they throw.
"We just need to score more points," Trubisky said. "You've seen us moving the ball and we just have to continue to not make mistakes and finish with points. We just need to score more. ..."
Worth noting. ... Howard has rushed for 662 yards in eight games. Last year, Howard became the second-youngest Bears running back to eclipse 1,000 yards in a season when he gained 1,313 yards as a rookie.
Howard's 102 yards against New Orleans in Week 8 was his 10th 100-plus-yard career rushing game.
As ESPN.com's Jeff Dickerson suggested, you can argue that Howard is even more valuable this year because the Bears have so few weapons in the passing game. ...
As the Sports Xchange notes, Cohen's production tailed off after an explosive start, and he's taking measures to return to a higher level.
Special teams coordinator Jeff Rodgers and offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains both have seen too much dancing from Cohen, or lateral running.
"I may have been a little too patient, I have to take what's there and trust the offensive line and just really hit the hole harder," Cohen said.
Cohen had 157 yards rushing and 126 yards receiving after three games, but in the last five had 71 rushing and 113 receiving. ...
White (shoulder) could still return from a broken scapula. White is on injured reserve after an injury in the opener. White has been in meetings and spent time around players while trying to stay in shape. "He's in the building," Fox said. "We haven't really discussed seriously at this point about if he can come back, or when. But he's eligible."
Tight end Ben Braunecker is another player who could take on a more important role after Miller's season-ending knee injury. The second-year receiver was on the practice squad, but was injured and out of practice. The Bears aren't required to report injuries to practice-squad players, and they hadn't.
On Tuesday, however, they promoted Braunecker to the active roster.
The Bears had four tight ends on the 53-man roster before Miller's injury, and Braunecker gives them four again.
QBs: Mitchell Trubisky, Chase Daniel, Mark Sanchez
RBs: Jordan Howard, Tarik Cohen, Benny Cunningham
WRs: Josh Bellamy, Markus Wheaton, Bennie Fowler, Taylor Gabriel, Dontrelle Inman, Kevin White
TEs: Dion Sims, Trey Burton, Adam Shaheen, Daniel Brown, Ben Braunecker
Cincinnati BengalsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 7 November 2017
Receiver A.J. Green faces a fine but no suspension from his on-field fight with Jaguars cornerback Jalen Ramsey, the defining moment of the Bengals' biggest meltdown of the season.
Green grabbed Ramsey around the neck, threw him to the ground and punched him in the helmet late in the first half of a 23-7 loss in Jacksonville on Sunday. He and Ramsey -- who started the altercation by pushing Green to the ground -- were ejected from the game.
As Associated Press sports writer Joe Kay Green is known as one of the Bengals' most even-tempered players. He apologized after the game for his outburst, prompted by Ramsey's trash-talking and his shove. Both sat out the second half of the game, and neither was suspended on Monday.
Head coach Marvin Lewis declined to discuss Green's actions after the game and then again on Monday, after he'd had a chance to watch the video.
"He's disappointed," Lewis said. "He's apologized for his actions."
There were several in-game altercations over the weekend. The NFL reviewed them and announced Monday that Tampa Bay's Mike Evans was suspended one game for leveling Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore from behind during a skirmish. Spokesman Michael Signora said nobody else was suspended, but players could be fined later in the week.
Without Green in the second half, the Bengals (3-5) did next-to-nothing on offense. He'll be available when they play at Tennessee (5-3) on Sunday, the second of three straight road games.
Given how things went in Jacksonville, it may not matter much. The Bengals had one of the worst offensive showings in club history, generating only 29 yards rushing, eight first downs and 148 total yards. They had the ball for less than 20 minutes and ran only 37 plays.
In the second half, Cincinnati had only seven plays that gained yards. They also had two holding penalties by the offensive line, seven plays that lost yards, one that went for no gain, and six incomplete passes.
"It was as frustrating a second half as I can remember calling a game from the sideline," offensive coordinator Bill Lazor said Monday. "I didn't add them up, but the feeling is we had as many plays go backward as go forward."
The offensive line struggled again to open holes for the running game and to protect Andy Dalton, who was 10 of 18 for 136 yards and was sacked twice.
The Bengals have scored only 129 points, tied with the Giants for third-fewest in the league behind Miami (116) and Cleveland (119). They're on pace to score 258, which would be their sixth-fewest since the league went to a 16-game schedule in 1978.
The previous time they scored at such a low pace was 2008, three years before Dalton and Green arrived through the draft.
But Green's absence was a major factor.
As ESPN.com's Katherine Terrell pointed out, Lewis has called Green the best player on the team, and when he's not on the field, the difference is obvious.
Still, as noted above, it goes well beyond that.
A change in offensive coordinators provided an initial spark when Lazor replaced Ken Zampese after an 0-2 start. But, as the Sports Xchange notes, Lazor wasn't going to be able to fix the offensive line or bring back Andrew Whitworth or Kevin Zeitler who are sorely missed. He can't bring back tight end Tyler Eifert who is out for the season following back surgery.
The running game has remained stalled and the defense, for all of its redeemable qualities, hasn't been able to force turnovers or get off the field on third down consistently.
There are no quick fixes, personnel-wise. Lewis scoffed on Monday when asked the weekly questions about top draft choice John Ross and whether he could help spark the offense this week. Ross is coming back from a knee injury and has yet to contribute.
"Again, John's had three weeks of practice," Lewis said.
Asked if he expects Ross to be able to contribute in the season's second half, Lewis said, "Oh, I hope so."
With road games at Tennessee and Denver the next two weeks, things don't get any easier.
"We need to play better, and it starts with the mentality of knowing that you're going to play better, and telling yourself, and trusting the guy next to you," said Dalton, who has been sacked 24 times. "That's all we can say right now, is we've got to put our head down and work. We've got the Titans this week, and so we've got to get a win then. ...
Other notes of interest. ... Lewis said RB Jeremy Hill suffered an ankle injury during practice on Saturday, which is why he was sidelined for the game. Hill wasn't listed on any injury reports leading up to the game.
As NFL.com's Matt Franciscovich noted, Joe Mixon drew the start for the Bengals with Hill inactive. Mixon logged 13 carries for just 31 yards on the ground, but he did score a rushing touchdown to save his fantasy day. Mixon added 15 receiving yards on his three receptions.
The rookie played on 76 percent of the Bengals snaps, and remains the primary back as he has for weeks. "Unfortunately," Franciscovich added, "is upside is capped with the abysmal play of Cincy's offensive line."
Randy Bullock was inactive for the game because of a stiff back that bothered him all week. The Bengals signed former Dolphins kicker Marshall Koehn on Saturday, and decided to go with him when Bullock's back was still bothering him pregame in Jacksonville.
Koehn made his extra-point attempt.
The Bengals hope to have a better idea of Bullock's availability early this week. The same with Hill, who was not practicing Wednesday.
Watch the Late-Breaking Updates section for more in coming days. ...
One last note here. ... The Bengals confirmed the return of offensive tackle Eric Winston to the team on Wednesday morning and announced the move that opened up a spot on the roster.
Right tackle Jake Fisher has been placed on the non-football illness list a few days after he had to leave the team's loss to the Jaguars and go to the hospital because of an illness. On Monday, Lewis said that the illness is something that Fisher has been dealing with at various points this season but it never forced him to miss time in the past.
There's no word on the specific ailment that is bothering Fisher, but Geoff Hobson of the team's website reports that the belief is that he will be able to return to action next season.
Andre Smith joins Winston as experienced options for Cincinnati up front for the rest of the season.
QBs: Andy Dalton, Jeff Driskel
RBs: Joe Mixon, Giovani Bernard, Brian Hill, Thomas Jones
WRs: A.J. Green, Brandon LaFell, Tyler Boyd, John Ross, Josh Malone, Alex Erickson, Cody Core
TEs: Tyler Kroft, Ryan Hewitt, C.J. Uzomah
Cleveland BrownsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 7 November 2017
The Browns entered their bye much the same way they ended the 2016 season: short on talent to compete with the other 31 teams in the league and still unsure whether they have the right quarterback to turn their woeful record around.
The Browns are 0-8 this year and 1-23 under head coach Hue Jackson. They are 4-41 since beating the Falcons in a late November game in 2014.
An improved defense has given hope brighter days could be ahead, but the offense is far behind; the Browns' 13-12 edge over the Vikings after two quarters last Sunday in London was the only time this season they have had a lead at halftime.
"Everything has got to be perfect for us to have a chance to win a football game," Jackson said. "We try to do the best we can to do everything right, but you can't be perfect."
Mistakes the Browns make are magnified because their players are not talented enough to overcome them. Quarterbacks DeShone Kizer, Kevin Hogan and Cody Kessler have thrown a league-high 17 interceptions.
The first half of the season concluded with a 33-16 loss to the Vikings in London, but it did end on one encouraging note: Kizer got through an entire game without throwing an interception for the first time in his rookie season.
"The only thing I'm going to learn with my game and that's something that we attacked and I was able to be team-protecting with the ball," Kizer said. "That's been the ultimate goal for me. Now I have to go out and make a couple more plays so we can put more points on the board."
The Browns played the Vikings without four defensive starters - end Myles Garrett, who missed five of the first eight games with injuries; cornerback Jason McCourty and safety Jabrill Peppers, who each missed the last two games with ankle and toe injuries respectively, and defensive tackle Trevon Coley who was sidelined with a neck injury.
Every team has to deal with injuries, but a thin bench is exposed when the Browns lose starters, and that makes winning even more difficult. The pattern has been the same since 2008 when they finished 4-12. One more loss in the final eight games would mean 10 straight losing seasons for the Browns.
"We need to take this bye week and heal up, take a little time away and get our minds right," Jackson said. "We have eight more weeks to go and figure some things out and get better at it. I still like our players' fight. We all want better results.
"We're going to take this bye week and really study ourselves and see where we can do better. Hopefully, we'll be able to get some of our injured guys back, especially the defensive guys who've missed the last couple weeks."
The Browns are not sure whether they have their quarterback of the future, meaning 2018 and beyond, but they head into their bye knowing Kizer is the starting quarterback for their game against the Lions on Nov. 12. That is progress; when the games against the Jets, Texans and Titans ended, Jackson was unsure who his starter would be. He ended up starting Hogan against the Texans and Kizer against the Titans and Vikings. ...
Meanwhile, in case you missed it, wide receiver Josh Gordon was conditionally reinstated by the NFL last week nearly three years after he last played in a regular season game and made his return to the Browns facility on Tuesday.
"The first day back in the building went great," Gordon posted on an Instagram story. "The real work begins now. Let y'all know where I'm at. Let's go."
Gordon will attend meetings and work on his conditioning and in individual drills until Nov. 20 when he returns to practice. He can play in the final five games, beginning Dec. 3 against the Chargers.
The Browns will address Gordon's admission in a GQ interview that he used drugs and/or drank alcohol before every game he played at Baylor and in the NFL.
"I don't think he is trying to [talk his way out of Cleveland]," Jackson said. "I do need to feel comfortable that he's not. If he's coming back to play football, he knows he needs to play football here. There's no other place that he can do what he needs to do in the National Football League as far as playing. It's right here. Let's see where we are. Let's have this conversation about him a few days from now after he's been here and been in the building and we've had a chance to talk to him and see where he is and go from there."
What Gordon will be able to do at this point is anybody's guess after such a long layoff, but the Browns have little reason not to take an extended look at him in the final weeks of the season.
In a semi-related note. ... Receiver Corey Coleman (hand) is improving, but is "a couple weeks" away, Jackson said. Coleman is on injured reserve, but was designated for return on Monday.
Coleman won't play this week against the Lions but will be eligible to play Nov. 19 against the Jaguars.
Coupled with the reinstatement of Gordon, the Browns will have some top-shelf talent at receiver. ...
As ESPN.com's Pat McManamon pointed out, in a bleak first half of the season for a bad team, Duke Johnson leads the team in receptions with 36 and is averaging 5.2 yards as the backup running back. His three touchdowns running and receiving are tied for the team high.
Johnson is Cleveland's best skill player so far this season.
Unfortunately, ESPN's Mike Clay doesn't believe Johnson is in position to match that touchdown total over the final eight games. Still the change-of-pace back behind Isaiah Crowell, Johnson has registered two carries from the opponent's 1-yard line but no additional tries within the 17-yard line. The closest he has been to the end zone on a target is the 15-yard line.
As Clay reminded his readers, a lack of work near the goal line is nothing new for Johnson, who entered 2017 with three touchdowns in two seasons of work.
Still, an improved running attack might be a reason to be encouraged. The Browns rushed for 115 yards on 22 carries against the Minnesota Vikings on Oct. 29 in London. It wasn't record-setting by any means, but it was the third time in four games they rushed for more than 100 yards as a team, and Crowell, on a 26-yard-run, scored his first rushing touchdown of the season. ...
Kicker Zane Gonzalez still has his job. Jackson said no kickers have been brought in for tryouts since Gonzalez missed an extra-point kick and a field goal against the Vikings in the game before the Browns went on their bye. ...
Kenny Britt (knee) was limited in Wednesday's practice; I'll follow up via Late-Breaking Update as needed. ...
And finally. ... Browns Executive Vice President Sashi Brown is denying talk that he purposely sabotaged the team's attempt to acquire quarterback AJ McCarron in a trade with the Bengals.
The proposed trade fell through just before Tuesday's NFL trade deadline, leading to some speculation that Brown purposely failed to get the proper paperwork to the league because he didn't want McCarron but also didn't want to refuse the trade that Jackson was pushing for. Brown told reporters today, however, that such speculation is "wholly untrue."
"We were all in it together," Brown said. "We were all disappointed it didn't happen."
Instead, Brown insists that the issue was just that the Browns waited until the last minute to get everything together and couldn't get it all done in time.
"So," as Profootballtalk.com summed up, "we can attribute the Browns' failure to land McCarron to incompetence, not to malice. At least according to Brown."
QBs: Tyrod Taylor
RBs: Carlos Hyde, Duke Johnson, Matt Dayes
WRs: Josh Gordon, Jarvis Landry, Corey Coleman, Ricardo Louis, Rashard Higgins, Jeff Janis, Bryce Treggs
TEs: Darren Fells, David Njoku, Seth DeValve, Randall Telfer
Dallas CowboysCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 7 November 2017
Here we go again. ... The Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will hear Ezekiel Elliott's appeal Thursday at 2 p.m. ET. If the judges were to make a decision on Friday in which the running back did not gain a preliminary injunction, then the suspension would start immediately and he would not play Sunday at Atlanta.
Without the injunction or further litigation, Elliott would be out until Dec. 24 against the Seattle Seahawks.
So. ... For the second straight week the Cowboys might not know if Elliott can play again until Friday.
Unlike last week, however, he will be able to practice leading up to the game but creates game plan issue if judges deny his request on Friday.
The unexpected decision by the court to conduct a Thursday hearing on the matter is therefore being viewed by Elliott's camp as a positive development, a source with knowledge of the situation told Profootballtalk.com's Mike Florio.
Florio (a labor lawyer before he began covering the NFL) went on to explain, the thinking in cases like this is that, if the appeals court plans to summarily reject what amounts to an unconventional and unusual request -- that the appeals court override the decision made by the lower court while the process of formally appealing the decision unfolds -- no hearing would occur. The fact that a hearing has been planned means that the issue is being taken seriously by the appeals court, which is in turn being interpreted as an indication that the appeals court will be inclined to overturn the impact of the lower court's ruling before considering whether to overturn the ruling itself.
Optimism also likely comes from the fact that the appeals court realizes time is of the essence, and that Elliott's current status entitles him to participate in meetings and practices in advance of the Week 10 game at Atlanta.
If the appeals court were inclined to compel him to serve his suspension while the appeal proceeds, a quick decision makes much more sense than a decision that comes after Elliott has participated in game planning and traditionally the most important day of practice of the week, on Wednesday.
So this is obviously something I'll be following closely in coming days; watch the Late-Breaking Updates section for more. ...
Meanwhile, despite being limited to just one day (Friday) of practice last week, Elliott finished with 93 yards on 27 carries and he scored his fifth rushing touchdown in the past three games in the Dallas Cowboys' 28-17 win over the Kansas City Chiefs.
"It was a little rust, I'm not going to lie," Elliott said after the game. "Honestly, I had no idea when I came in on Friday that I even had a chance to come in. I really didn't know I was playing this weekend. I just came in Friday, practiced and stayed all day Friday, watched a lot of film on Saturday, just trying to catch up to this team and catch up for what I lost."
He spent extra time with running backs coach Gary Brown and offensive assistant Steve Brown to get caught up on the game plan.
He might have said he was rusty, but he didn't look rusty.
"He's the guy that allows us to control the game," head coach Jason Garrett said. "It starts with the guys up front, their ability to come off the ball and control the line of scrimmage, but giving the ball to 21 as much as we do allows us to control the tempo of the game. Much of what we do offensively comes off of that."
Owner and general manager Jerry Jones initially did not want to discuss Elliott's legal issues. He would not comment on the ESPN report that the running back's representatives were looking for a settlement. Elliott has maintained he is fighting for his name and said after the game he continues to have the "same mentality."
"This team has done nothing but support me," Elliott said. "The team and the ownership, they've supported me to the fullest and they've given me all the support I need."
Jones said Elliott was inspirational. Dak Prescott said "Zeke was being Zeke," during the game. In a critical third-quarter drive that ended with his 2-yard touchdown that gave the Cowboys the lead for good, Elliott carried seven times for 31 yards.
He ran through tackles. He jumped over tacklers. He ran by tacklers.
"Zeke is amazing," Jones said. "His attitude and positivity are reflected in the way he plays."
The Cowboys' benefit is obvious: Elliott. He has had at least 80 yards rushing in 21 of the 23 games he has played in his first two seasons. The Cowboys are 18-5 when Elliott plays. (He was held out of last year's season finale.)
As much as they have confidence in Alfred Morris, who had one carry for 11 yards, Rod Smith and Darren McFadden, they aren't Elliott. He did what he did Sunday with one practice.
"He jumped back in there in Friday, came to meetings, came to practice," Garrett said. "He went to work and everyone else responded accordingly."
If the courts don't rule in his favor, the next time he will carry the ball will be on Christmas Eve against the Seattle Seahawks.
"We're just going to keep taking it week by week," Prescott said. "If they suspend him or say he's ready to go next Friday, we'll be ready to go regardless of what happens."
For the record, Elliott has 783 yards rushing on the season, after a slow start, with five rushing touchdowns in his past three games. ...
I'll obviously be following this one closely through resolution this week -- assuming it comes. Those with Morris, Smith and McFadden should keep them in their plan. ...
Meanwhile, wide receiver Dez Bryant hurt his ankle in the second half and told Jon Machota of the Dallas Morning News after the game that it was "a little sore and bruised."
Garrett subsequently told reporter that Bryant is dealing with knee and ankle injuries from Sunday's game and said the receiver is "day by day."
Garrett said he did not believe the knee injury was too troublesome.
Bryant had six catches for 73 yards in the 28-17 win, which left him second on the team to Terrance Williams in both areas. Williams had nine catches for 141 yards and also hurt his ankle late in the proceedings. He said it was just sore and something he's been dealing with for a while.
Left tackle Tyron Smith is the third injury concern and Garrett said he suffered a groin injury that kept him out in the latter stages of the game.
Garrett said, via Clarence Hill of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, that they hope Smith will be able to practice at some point this week after hurting his groin against Kansas City.
It's a new problem for Smith, who has dealt with back problems throughout the season without missing a game. Garrett said that the back is OK at the moment.
Bryant did not practice Wednesday while Williams was limited.
Keep an eye on the Late-Breaking Updates section for more on Zeke, Bryant and the rest in coming days. ...
Other notes of interest. ... Bryant and Brice Butler both had second-quarter drops that they both blame on being blinded by the sun coming in through glass windows behind the west end zone at AT&T Stadium.
"The sun really is that big a deal," Bryant said. "I was going across as I was going up. The ball caught the light and I lost it a little bit. I told coach, 'Hey man there's nothing I can do about that one.'"
Bryant said he has talked to Jones about it.
"Hopefully, one of these days he'll fix it," Bryant said. "I don't know what it is. It's a big problem."
Butler also lost a deep ball from Prescott in the sun. He said he talked to vice president Stephen Jones about it after the game. He said it's a huge factor because the Cowboys often play the late afternoon game when the sun is going down.
Butler believes the sun is a problem because the stadium is facing the wrong way. Stadiums usually are built facing north and south. AT&T Stadium is facing east and west, which makes the sun a factor.
That's not changing any time soon. ...
And finally. ... The Cowboys have said little about the status of tight end Rico Gathers, who remains on injured reserve despite being eligible to return.
Gathers was diagnosed with a concussion during a training camp practice Aug. 15. The Cowboys kept him on their original 53-player roster Sept. 3 before placing him on injured reserve the following day, giving them the option of bringing him back this season.
But, with Gathers still apparently not ready to return to practice, it appears more likely Gathers spends the rest of the season on IR.
QBs: Dak Prescott, Cooper Rush
RBs: Alfred Morris, Rod Smith
WRs: Terrance Williams, Cole Beasley, Deonte Thompson, Allen Hurns, Ryan Switzer, Noah Brown
TEs: Jason Witten, Geoff Swaim, Rico Gathers
Denver BroncosCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 7 November 2017
As Associated Press sports writer Arnie Stapleton reported, Jake Butt won't be rescuing the Broncos' faltering offense, at least not this season.
The rookie tight end is headed to injured reserve along with quarterback Chad Kelly, the seventh-rounder from Mississippi State who is still working his way back from knee and wrist surgeries.
"Chad Kelly came back to practice last week and numbers-wise it doesn't make sense for our football team" to carry four quarterbacks, coach Vance Joseph said Monday. "We were hoping that Jake could come back and help us at this point, but he's not ready yet."
The former Michigan star was a projected first-round draft pick before tearing his right ACL in the Orange Bowl. He slipped to the fifth round and the Broncos were hoping he'd give them a much-needed boost at the midpoint of the season.
Going on IR "doesn't mean I'm going to be checked out of these meetings and waiting on next year," Butt said. "I'm still going to be locked in and trying to learn as much as I can this year. But in terms of the overall health of my knee, yeah, that probably is going to help me long-term just having extra time to rehab and strengthen it and get back to full health."
Joseph also announced Monday that he's sticking with Brock Osweiler as his starting quarterback despite his pair of costly interceptions in Denver's 51-23 flop in Philadelphia on Sunday.
Despite making many mistakes and completing just half of his 38 throws, Osweiler energized the team after taking over for a turnover-prone Trevor Siemian and made several good decisions, such as his audible on his touchdown pass to Demaryius Thomas, Joseph said.
"So, I think Brock deserves one more week to kind of prove that he's the guy for us," Joseph said. "Because he had a great week of preparation."
Joseph isn't committing to any quarterback beyond Sunday, when the Broncos (3-5) host the Patriots (6-2): "I'm only concerned about the Patriots this week and we'll see where we are next Monday."
If Osweiler has another middling performance, Joseph might go back to Siemian or give former first-round draft pick Paxton Lynch a look, although he was quoted by the CBS crew Sunday as saying the ex-Memphis star wasn't ready physically or mentally to play after getting hurt in the preseason.
Joseph explained Monday that he wasn't talking about "a lack of football IQ," but "I was talking more about time on the job. He's missed so much time. So, to put him in an NFL game in Week 10 wouldn't be fair to our football team or to Paxton."
No matter who's calling the plays, Joseph said the coaching staff has to do a better job preparing them.
Offensive coordinator Mike McCoy has stuck to a steady diet of three-wide receiver sets even though 18 of the 21 sacks and all 10 interceptions over the last six games have come out of that formation.
"Am I satisfied with the play calling" on offense? Joseph said. "I've said this after every loss, that we've got to coach better. When you lose football games in this league, you have to coach better; you have to play better. It's a league that's really built and operated to have equal parts. So, the difference sometimes is the coaching. The difference is the scheme and play calling.
"So, when you don't win, absolutely you have to coach better. And that starts with me. And I understand that. Because in this league coaching is very important and the better-coached teams win. I'll leave it at that."
With five losses in six games, the Broncos are mired in their worst slump since a stretch of nine losses in 10 games that cost coach Josh McDaniels his job in 2010.
After each of their last four defeats, Joseph, a first-time head coach, has mentioned he didn't see it coming because the team had great weeks of practice and had put together great game plans.
"Well, I'll tell you this. I told the players this five minutes ago, I said, 'Guys, we have worked hard and that's to your credit. We have put some good work in. But you're judged on Sundays. You're judged one day a week and that's the day you have to show up and perform,'" Joseph said.
"So, the practices, it's been good. But it should be good. We're NFL players and coaches. We get paid to do this job so we should have good work each week. It has not translated, obviously, in four weeks to wins."
The silver lining is that Kansas City (5-3) has lost three straight so the Broncos are only two games out of the AFC West lead.
"We have time, but time's running out," Joseph said. "So, we've got to fix it right now. ..."
Other notes of interest. ... As NFL.com's Matt Franciscovich noted, the Broncos run game was virtually non-existent against Philadelphia. C.J. Anderson started the game but was injured in the first half, though he did return.
But by the time he was back the Broncos were losing by a huge margin, so, as has been the case over the last month or so, he didn't produce in an unfavorable game script.
Anderson totaled just 13 rush yards on his nine carries.
Devontae Booker logged eight touches for 30 total yards. Even in garbage time, Booker didn't do much, mostly because Osweiler played poorly. Jamaal Charles logged eight touches for 24 total yards.
As Franciscovich summed up, "Until Denver figures things out on offense, this is a backfield to avoid for fantasy purposes. ..."
Meanwhile, the quarterback play is having the kind of impact you would expect on the fantasy fortunes of the receiving corps.
Denver is one of just three teams with a negative touchdown-to-interception ratio. Thomas needs to be a huge part of the offense, but hasn't been, and didn't even score a touchdown until garbage time of the Broncos' loss at Philadelphia. It snapped a 13-game skein without a touchdown for the eight-year veteran.
According to NFL.com's Matt Harmon, whether due to the blowout game script or his questionable status coming in, Emmanuel Sanders was only one the field for 45 percent of the team's plays.
On the other hand, Cody Latimer had perhaps his best game in four years as a Bronco. He caught two passes for 51 yards, was the first man downfield on multiple punts and delivered a key block on Isaiah McKenzie's 44-yard punt return.
Worth noting: Thomas missed practice Wednesday because of a hamstring issue, according to Joseph; I'll follow up via Late-Breaking Update as needed in coming days. ...
Kicker Brandon McManus went through an early-season slump, missing five field-goal attempts in the first five games of the season, but he has gotten out of it with five consecutive successful attempts in the last two games.
The Broncos placed right tackle Menelik Watson (foot) on injured reserve and signed free-agent tackle Cyrus Koundjio on Wednesday.
QBs: Case Keenum, Trevor Siemian, Paxton Lynch, Chad Kelly
RBs: Devontae Booker, Jamaal Charles, De'Angelo Henderson
WRs: Demaryius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders, Cody Latimer, Isaiah McKenzie, Jordan Taylor
TEs: Virgil Green, Jeff Heuerman, Jake Butt
Detroit LionsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 7 November 2017
It was a pretty good showing on the Monday Night Football national stage.
Detroit only had eight offensive possessions in the win over the Packers in Green Bay. Those possessions went 71 yards for a touchdown, 34 yards for a missed field goal, 91 yards for a touchdown, 50 yards for a field goal, 20 yards ending with a fumble, 63 yards for a field goal, 75 yards for a touchdown and 33 yards for a field goal.
The Lions were the first team in a year to go a full game without punting.
After receiver Marvin Jones caught his first touchdown of the season Monday night, he did something he rarely does. He gave the ball up.
As ESPN.com's Michael Rothstein explained, Jones keeps all his NFL touchdowns -- regular season, playoffs and even the six he has caught in preseason games. They mean something to him. The big games he's had in the past, those often blur into his memory. But those touchdown balls -- those matter.
Except Monday night, when he caught Matthew Stafford's 200th career touchdown pass. That one, he said, he'll be willing to let go.
"Oh no, it's his. It's definitely his," Jones said of giving the ball to Stafford. "But I hold on to all of 'em. I pretty much have every touchdown I've ever scored, even including the preseason for all five years. So yeah, that's definitely his."
That's 30 touchdowns in all, including those from the games that don't count. Jones has always been a touchdown threat. But this season, with Stafford as his quarterback for the second straight year, he's showing something else. He's starting to look like the player Detroit invested in with a four-year contract during the 2016 offseason to potentially be the No. 1 receiver.
Jones has become a big-play-making, touchdown-catching, creating-space-when-there's-not, red zone-threat receiver. Halfway through this season, Jones has 33 catches for 515 yards and five touchdowns -- all numbers that, projected over a full season, would equal or surpass career highs.
It would make him a 1,000-yard receiver for the first time -- something the Lions hoped for and Jones expected all along.
Jones struggled last year. After his breakout game in Green Bay last season -- 205 yards, two touchdowns -- he looked like a steal of a signing for the Lions from Cincinnati. Then, he faltered over the next two months and even though he had one of the best statistical seasons of his career -- 55 catches, 930 yards -- he sat in the locker room after Detroit's playoff loss to Seattle and lamented a season that, to his standards, "wasn't good at all."
It motivated him to make changes, including briefly working out with Randy Moss this offseason, the same potential Hall of Famer who was part of the ESPN crew Monday night watching Jones extend and contort himself into his seven catches for 107 yards and two touchdowns.
As Rothstein suggested, Jones looks like a transformed player, one more comfortable in everything he's doing -- from the balls he's receiving from Stafford to his own ability in the air. Everything appears smoother, more confident.
If the Lions can get that Jones the rest of the season, Detroit's offense has a chance to be special.
Having Jones as an effective part of the offense, particularly as a deep threat who trusts his hands and his innate ability to know when a ball is coming to help throw off defensive backs, enhances what Detroit can do.
It gives Stafford the big-play, deeper target he lost when Calvin Johnson retired and when Kenny Golladay was hobbled with a hamstring injury.
It gives Stafford a player he can rely on. As much as Stafford can throw Jones open, Jones can do enough once he's in a route to create the sliver of open space himself.
It's the body control Jones has that separates him from other receivers. That, combined with his hands, is what attracted the Lions to him during free agency. And it's what, when he's using both well, can be devastating to opposing defenses.
"That guy, he's very limber," receiver Golden Tate said. "He's very loose out there, and he seems real slippery. There are some times you look at it and you're like, 'Aww, he's covered.' But then, the way he catches it makes it seem like he's wide open.
"He's hard to get a hold of, and we love it. He has speed and he has length, has long arms. He's a complete receiver, for sure."
In the middle of his second season with the Lions, he's starting to show it. And if it goes well for the Lions, Jones could end up with a bunch more footballs to keep.
Meanwhile, Ameer Abdullah made no secret about wanting more touches in the Lions' offense. On Monday, he got his wish.
Now, the running back just needs to do a better job of holding onto the football.
Abdullah ran for 48 yards and his second touchdown of the season on a career-high 21 carries in Monday's win, but he also had two second-half fumbles that prompted head coach Jim Caldwell to send him to the bench.
"I'm just going to keep doing the same thing I do," Abdullah said after the game. "I play running back, man. I get the ball a lot. That's no excuse, but it happens. As long as it happens less times than more often, it'll be good."
Abdullah lost one fumble late in the third quarter when the ball came loose during a scrum, but the Lions went right back to him on the next series.
Abdullah had four carries on the Lions' next drive, but he fumbled on a first-and-goal play at the 1 on the first play of the fourth quarter.
Abdullah did not play the rest of the game.
"I was trying to reach the ball, being stupid. Being stupid," Abdullah said. "I know that's not an (excuse), but I really wanted to score right there. ... And selfish decision. Karma came back quick."
Abdullah, who had significant fumble problems in college at Nebraska and as a rookie, when he fumbled five times and lost two, said his fumbles Monday were "inexcusable" even though he insisted officials erred in ruling his first fumble a turnover.
Before his fumbles Monday, Abdullah had gone 154 rushing attempts without a fumble, a streak that dates back to the 2015 season.
Along with his 21 rushes, Abdullah, who missed most of the 2016 season with a foot injury, had one catch for 9 yards Monday and got his most extensive red-zone work since early in the season.
Abdullah ran the ball on the Lions' first four red-zone snaps, and he scored on a 4-yard run just before halftime.
Entering Monday, Abdullah had just eight red-zone carries this season.
"That's something that I've been wanting more is touches in this offense, more opportunities to be in space, more opportunities to catch the ball," Abdullah said. "I had a couple catches, I think one or two, so that's good. And just to see how well me and Theo came in and out, that's vintage in the offense right now."
Given the Lions' choppy play of late, with three straight losses entering the weekend, Caldwell said he was encouraged by his team's complete performance Monday. The Lions dominated time of possession by nearly 14 minutes, held the Packers without a touchdown until midway through the fourth quarter, and got big nights from Stafford (361 yards passing), Jones (seven catches, 107 yards and the two touchdowns) and Tate (7-113-0). ...
Also of interest. ... Golladay is closing in on a return from the hamstring injury that has kept him out since Week 3. Golladay took part in receiver drills about two hours before Monday night's game. He ran every route and caught passes from backup Jake Rudock.
Barring a setback, Golladay, who was on the practice field Wednesday to open this week, could play Sunday against the Cleveland Browns. ...
And finally. ... Stafford joined Dan Marino, Brett Favre and Peyton Manning as the only players in NFL history to top 200 touchdown passes before their 30th birthdays with two scoring throws Monday. Stafford now has 201 touchdown passes in his career.
QBs: Matthew Stafford, Jake Rudock, Matt Cassel
RBs: LeGarrette Blount, Ameer Abdullah, Theo Riddick, Dwayne Washington, Tion Green, Zach Zenner
WRs: Golden Tate, Marvin Jones, Kenny Golladay, Jared Abbrederis, TJ Jones
TEs: Luke Willson, Michael Roberts, Levine Toilolo
Green Bay PackersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 7 November 2017
Head coach Mike McCarthy still believes in backup quarterback Brett Hundley, but he wants to see everyone on his roster -- including Hundley -- elevate their games.
"We all need to do better," McCarthy said Tuesday night, less than 24 hours after his team's 30-17 loss to the Detroit Lions. "We had an injury to Aaron Rodgers, and nobody has stepped up."
Rodgers was knocked out Oct. 15 with a broken right collarbone. He underwent surgery four days later and was placed on injured reserve, with the hope of the bone healing quickly enough for him to return this season.
Since the injury, the Packers' offense hasn't been the same with Hundley under center, the defense hasn't generated enough stops or turnovers, the special teams haven't created a single momentum-shifting play and the Packers (4-4) have lost three games -- to the Vikings, the New Orleans Saints and the Lions
"No group has stepped up yet," McCarthy said. "We've had two games that have been very similar in nature -- New Orleans and Detroit. ... We need to get more production out of this new path. And it hasn't happened yet."
Although McCarthy insisted after Monday night's loss that Hundley was not to blame, the third-year quarterback has not played well. Against the Lions, his numbers -- 26 of 38 for 245 yards with no interceptions for a passer rating of 86.0 -- looked better because of a late touchdown drive after the Lions had the game in hand.
An offense that was one of the league's best on third-down conversions and red-zone production with Rodgers at the helm has managed just 44 points in the past three games. Before Rodgers' injury, the Packers were averaging 27.4 points per game.
Hundley acknowledged after the game that the improvement he showed against the Lions was insufficient.
"Everybody wants to score five touchdowns and have a perfect quarterback rating and win," Hundley said. "This game was a step in the right direction. I think I did some good things. Obviously, it wasn't enough. But the first start (against the Saints) for sure wasn't."
Green Bay's defense hasn't put together a strong performance since a 35-14 victory over the Chicago Bears on Sept. 28. The teams meet again Sunday in Chicago, and the Packers enter that game ranked 22nd in scoring defense, 25th in yards allowed per game, 20th in pass defense and 23rd in run defense.
Only one NFL team has fewer sacks than the Packers' 13 through eight games, and defensive leaders Mike Daniels, Nick Perry, Clay Matthews and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix haven't been the difference-makers they need to be.
"We've got to do a better job of applying the plan, make sure that we're executing it," McCarthy said. "We've got to play to who we are. We're halfway through the season. So we're not going to change our pass-rush techniques and so forth. If anything, less volume, more creativity."
Meanwhile, Packers.com's Mike Spofford reports that all Hundley wants to do is get back to work.
"My only goal I care about is winning. Didn't get that done," he said. "Gotta go back, look at the film, see what I can do better, and go from there."
Hundley did play better than two weeks ago against New Orleans. He admitted he felt more comfortable while also admitting his wasn't a winning performance, going 26-of-38 for 245 yards with a rushing touchdown.
Hundley is keeping it real, and he knows what the offense needs is for him to hit that big play to provide the spark. He didn't hit it soon enough Monday night.
The only way to do it is to keep plugging away. Hundley hasn't had "the breakout game everybody wants" but he's going to take Rodgers' advice, which he said was to keep his head up and keep pushing.
His head coach unquestionably remains in his corner.
Afterward, McCarthy said, "I have great faith in Brett Hundley. Brett Hundley's not our issue."
But McCarthy's game plan with Hundley was once again extremely conservative.
According to ESPN Stats and Information, 13 of Hundley's 18 first-half passes were thrown five yards or fewer downfield. Not surprisingly, Hundley had just 80 first-half passing yards and Green Bay trailed, 14-3, at the break.
Hundley finished the game throwing 23 of his 38 passes within five yards of the line of scrimmage. Detroit countered by stacking the box, taking away the run and making sure the short passes didn't turn into big gains.
The Packers will have to move the ball with far greater consistency in the weeks ahead to have any chance of salvaging a season that's slipping away.
Green Bay's defense has been sieve-like. There are problems on special teams. But the offense, which has masked many of those sins for years now, no longer seems capable of saving the day. ...
Other notes of interest. ... Despite a miserable showing against the Lions, Aaron Jones, who was selected in the fifth round and was a non-factor throughout the summer, remains a player to watch. Remember, despite being inactive Week 1, Jones leads the Packers in rushing yards (358), rushing touchdowns (three) and is averaging 5.3 yards per carry.
McCarthy told reporters on Wednesday that tight end Martellus Bennett (shoulder) is out this week against the Bears. He's still getting opinions on his injury.
The Packers expected bad news about right tackle Bryan Bulaga after Monday night's knee injury and that's just what they got on Tuesday.
Tom Pelissero of NFL Media reports that tests have confirmed that Bulaga tore his ACL during Green Bay's loss to the Lions. Bulaga will miss the rest of the season as a result of the injury.
It's a major blow to an offense that was already reeling after the loss of Rodgers.
Justin McCray filled in for Bulaga on Monday and the team has designated Jason Spriggs for return from injured reserve.
QBs: DeShone Kizer, Brett Hundley, Joe Callahan
RBs: Jamaal Williams, Aaron Jones, Devante Mays, Ty Montgomery
WRs: Davante Adams, Randall Cobb, Geronimo Allison, Trevor Davis
TEs: Jimmy Graham, Lance Kendricks
Houston TexansCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 7 November 2017
Head coach Bill O'Brien says he and general manager Rick Smith have discussed signing Colin Kaepernick in the wake of last week's season-ending injury to Deshaun Watson.
When asked about Kaepernick on Monday, a day after Tom Savage struggled in a 20-14 loss to the Colts, O'Brien said: "We talk about the roster and what's out there every day Rick and I."
O'Brien was then pressed on whether they have specifically discussed about adding Kaepernick.
"Oh yeah, everybody gets discussed," he said. "Is that a problem? Isn't that the way most teams do it. People seem shocked by that."
Kaepernick, the former 49ers quarterback, began the national anthem protest movement by kneeling last season. He remains unsigned and has filed a complaint that team owners colluded against him because of the protests, which are aimed at police brutality against African-Americans and other social justice issues.
O'Brien was pressed several times Monday about whether the Texans would sign Kaepernick if it were his decision. He avoided answering the question directly, saying that his job is simply to "coach the football team."
After that he was asked if he believes signing Kaepernick would make that job easier.
"Uh, that's an interesting question," he said before pausing for a couple of seconds. "I would tell you that I like the guys that we have and we're going to continue to coach them and try to do a better job of coaching them."
Well. ... He didn't like all of them.
The Texans released Matt McGloin and signed veteran journeyman Josh Johnson, they announced Tuesday.
O'Brien has tossed aside his Penn State connection with McGloin in favor of the more mobile Johnson, who spent the preseason with the New York Giants but hasn't thrown a regular-season pass since 2011, when he started one game for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Since then, the 31-year-old Johnson has spent time with the Cleveland Browns, Cincinnati Bengals, San Francisco 49ers, Indianapolis Colts, Buffalo Bills and Giants. He's also been a practice squad member of the Baltimore Ravens and New York Jets.
Meanwhile, as Associated Press sports writer Kristie Rieken noted this week, Houston is looking for answers to get its offense back on track and try to make a push for a third straight playoff berth. The Texans fell to 3-5 with the loss to Indianapolis and are two games behind Tennessee and Jacksonville, who are tied for first place in the AFC South.
Savage started Houston's season opener but was benched for Watson after a terrible first half. He moved back into the starting role this week after Watson tore an anterior cruciate ligament Thursday. Savage looked much the same as he did in the opener on Sunday and failed to move the offense for the majority of the day.
Entering the game, the Texans were averaging 3.3 offensive touchdowns per game and had scored at least 30 points in a franchise-record five straight games.
After Watson had helped the Texans score 30 or more points in a franchise-record five straight games, Savage led the offense on just one scoring drive. That came midway through the fourth quarter. The Texans, whose first touchdown on Sunday came on a fumble return, had a chance to win on the last play, but Savage was sacked and fumbled.
"We showed we can move the ball, we've just got to do it more consistently," DeAndre Hopkins said. "Just come out and start fast. Not wait until late to pick things up."
A faster start certainly would have helped.
Last week against the then-No. 1 ranked Seattle Seahawks' defense, Hopkins had eight catches for 224 yards and a touchdown. Against the Colts, he had six catches for 86 yards and a touchdown on 16 targets. The majority of his yards came on the touchdown drive when he had catches for 12 and 34 yards.
Hopkins became the first player in franchise history with a receiving touchdown in five consecutive games.
On Friday after the Texans put Watson on injured reserve, O'Brien was fired up talking about his team going forward, saying the group was not buying into "what's out there, that the demise of the Houston Texans is upon us."
While there is a lot of the season still left and the 3-5 Texans are only two games out of first place in the mediocre AFC South, Sunday's performance against the then-last-place Colts did not inspire confidence that Houston can win the division for the third straight season. ...
But for fantasy owners, there were reasons for optimism. As ESPN.com's Sarah Barshop noted, it's clear that if the Texans want to win going forward, Savage will have to rely heavily on Hopkins. Yes, the Texans have receiver Will Fuller, but Savage targeted Hopkins two times what he targeted any other player.
The volume will be there for Hopkins. And for Fuller -- to a degree.
But as NFL.com's Matt Harmon noted, despite seeing a healthy eight targets, Fuller snagged just two catches on the day. If he continues averaging the 18.7 air yards per target he did against the Colts, it will be tough for him to maintain any level of predictability with Savage at the helm. ...
Other notes of interest. ... Rookie running back D'Onta Foreman kept plunging into the line of scrimmage. He didn't find many big holes, though.
Working behind starter Lamar Miller, the third-round draft pick from Texas rushed for 37 yards on 11 carries with a long run of eight yards.
The Texans rushed for just 94 yards on 21 carries after entering the game ranked third in the NFL in rushing offense. Miller gained 57 yards on 10 carries.
Foreman resumed his usual role after having zero carries in a loss to the Seattle Seahawks. O'Brien had said Foreman would get back involved.
"I knew I would because he's really an honest guy," Foreman said. "I could tell when he said something he's going to stick with it."
As NFL.com's Matt Franciscovich put it, "Foreman's workload was a welcome sight after he didn't see a single touch last week, but the fantasy output wasn't much to write home about. The double-digit carry workload was encouraging, but Foreman remains a bench stash for fantasy purposes. ..."
Texans kicker Ka'imi Fairbairn had been perfect on field goals until Sunday.
The former Lou Groza Award winner from UCLA missed his first NFL field goal against the Colts, misfiring from 39 yards. He's connected on 11 of 12 field goals since replacing Nick Novak with two missed extra points. ...
Tight end Ryan Griffin suffered his second concussion of the season.
I'll be watching for more on Griffin, who did not practice Wednesday, and fellow tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz (concussion), who was activated off IR to play at Los Angeles this week.
And finally. ... Watson underwent surgery on his injured knee on Wednesday. The hope is he'll be ready for training camp next summer.
QBs: T.J. Yates, Brandon Weeden
RBs: Lamar Miller, Andre Ellington, Alfred Blue, Tyler Ervin
WRs: DeAndre Hopkins, Will Fuller, Braxton Miller, DeAndrew White
TEs: Stephen Anderson, Evan Baylis, MyCole Pruitt
Indianapolis ColtsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 7 November 2017
As ESPN.com's Mike Wells put it, "Sometimes it's the little things that help a player get back on track when his team is in a rut: extra reps after practice, more time in the weight room, extra film sessions.
"For T.Y. Hilton, though, it's playing a game in Houston at NRG Stadium. ..."
The receiver ended his recent funk (five catches for 61 yards over the past three games) by adding to his previous history of success against Houston, catching five catches for 175 yards and two touchdowns to help the Colts end their three-game losing streak with a 20-14 victory.
On Wednesday, he was named AFC Offensive Player of the Week for his performance.
Hilton almost became a footnote in the game because the Colts almost, well, pulled off a very Colts-like move. Indianapolis had a 10-point, fourth-quarter lead when they fell back into their season-long trend of attempting to give the game away.
Sunday's win was just the second time in six tries this season that the Colts got a victory after leading at halftime.
"We've been in these situations before," Colts safety Darius Butler said. "We've lost some of them, sometimes we've won them. Today we found a way to get the win. That's the only thing that counts."
Hilton added to his résumé when it comes to games played in Houston. He had seven catches for 121 yards and three touchdowns against the Texans in November 2013. He topped it the next season with nine catches for 223 yards and a touchdown. And then there was Sunday, when he was back to having fun again.
"I don't know, it's just crazy," Hilton said. "Maybe I just love playing here."
Hilton is now tied with Pittsburgh's Antonio Brown for the NFL lead this season with his third game of at least 150 receiving yards, according to ESPN Stats and Information. In Hilton's other six games, he's averaging 32.8 receiving yards a game.
Hilton nearly surpassed that total on one catch on the Colts' opening series on Sunday. He was lined up in the slot when Chester Rogers went underneath to draw two Houston defenders, which opened up the seam for Hilton, who had Houston's defense beat by several yards on the 48-yard touchdown.
"A great player, they want the ball," head coach Chuck Pagano said. "He's a guy that wants the football. We're doing everything we can to get that ball to our playmakers."
Hilton sealed his afternoon when he took an underneath pass and raced up the field past several Houston defenders. Hilton, seeing that Texans cornerback Kareem Jackson slipped, leaped over the defensive back to avoid contact. Hilton, knowing he didn't get touched, got off the ground and scored on the 80-yard touchdown. Texans safety Andre Hal didn't realize that Hilton wasn't touched and just ran by the Colts receiver.
"I was determined not to go down," Hilton said. "I saw one-on-one with [Jackson]. But before I got to him, Chester [Rogers] made a great block, and Donte [Moncrief] was running with me in there. I cut back and kind of dove over [Jackson], so I knew he didn't touch me. I was just hoping nobody else touched me and I just got up and ran."
That's the type of afternoon it was in a city that's been like a second home for Hilton.
And that's a good thing.
As Wells further noted, the Colts have basically gotten zero production from receivers not named Hilton this season. Hilton has 702 receiving yards on the season. The other receivers on the roster -- Donte Moncrief, Kamar Aiken, Rogers, Quan Bray and Matt Hazel -- have combined for 521 yards this season.
The Colts need to hope that Hilton can remain healthy. ...
Meanwhile, Frank Gore looked and sounded like a relieved man Monday.
After spending almost one full month chasing their third victory of the season, the Colts finally got another chance to savor the spoils of victory.
"The dice rolled our way," Gore said.
It was a refreshing change from the doom and gloom that pervaded the airwaves and was brought up in discussions around town in recent weeks.
Now the question becomes whether Sunday's win will have any kind of lasting impact?
This week's opponent, the Steelers have won four straight in the series and have outscored the Colts 124-51 in three games against Pagano-led teams. That includes a 28-7 victory last season when Scott Tolzien replaced an injured Andrew Luck as the starter. Luck, who was placed on season-ending IR last week, will miss his third straight matchup with the Steelers.
Following a bye week, the Colts return home to face Tennessee before heading to Jacksonville. Win both and they could find themselves back in the AFC South title hunt -- and they believe they can.
"A win like that can really change the way things are going," center Ryan Kelly said. ...
Other notes of interest. ... According to the Sports Xchange, as Jacoby Brissett continues to learn more of the offensive playbook, his overall performance and consistency will continue to improve. He has completed 165-of-270 passes for 1,950 yards with seven TD passes and four interceptions.
He has, however, been sacked 32 times.
Hilton and Jack Doyle, who has added 50 catches for 441 yards and two TDs, have been the only reliable receiving threats. ...
As NFL.com's Matt Franciscovich noted, Gore racked up 20 touches for 77 yards from scrimmage against the Texans in Week 9. The veteran played 59 percent of the snaps and despite narratives that Marlon Mack might begin taking over more of the workload, Gore proved that he remains the Colts primary runner.
Franciscovich views Gore as a low-end flex option against the Steelers this week.
Mack, meanwhile, is second on the team in rushing with 212 yards on 52 carries and has a pair of rushing TDs. With his 10 receptions for 110 yards and a TD, he has given the Indianapolis offense a much-needed spark out of the backfield with his big-play skills. But he's still a role player. ...
Matt Jones (ankle) was a pregame inactive for the Texans game Sunday. Jones had limited work during practice last week. He has nursed a sore ankle for the last two weeks. There is no indication yet on his availability for the Steelers game.
And finally. ... The team announced that they placed Bray on injured reserve with an unspecified injury Tuesday. . Defensive tackle Joey Mbu has been summoned from the practice squad to fill the open spot.
Bray joined the Colts as an undrafted free agent in 2015 and has played in 24 games for the team over the last three years, including all nine games this year. He has three catches for 39 yards and has served as the team's lead returner on both punts and kickoffs.
QBs: Jacoby Brissett, Scott Tolzien
RBs: Marlon Mack, Christine Michael, Matt Jones, Robert Turbin
WRs: T.Y. Hilton, Ryan Grant, Chester Rogers, Kamar Aiken
TEs: Jack Doyle, Eric Ebron, Ross Travis, Jason Vander Laan
Jacksonville JaguarsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 7 November 2017
The Jaguars' best offensive player was deactivated because of a violation of a team rule. They didn't have one of their starting offensive linemen because of an injury, and their best offensive lineman aggravated an ankle injury.
They lost their best defensive player -- and arguably their best overall player -- because he was ejected for fighting.
So in the span of three hours, the Jaguars proved that their roster is finally good enough to overcome the kind of adversity that doomed the team to loss after loss over the past decade. They also delivered a message about the team's culture and discipline and showed the rest of the NFL that they are for real. ...
The Jaguars surprised most everyone -- especially fantasy owners -- with the pregame announcement that running back Leonard Fournette would be inactive for the Bengals game due to a violation of team rules.
The Jaguars wouldn't comment any further either before the game or afterward when head coach Doug Marrone would only offer, "It's between the player and myself and we handle it internally."
Sources told ESPN's Schefter that among the reasons he was punished was he missed the team photo Oct. 24.
Right guard A.J. Cann missed the game with a triceps injury he suffered Friday, but the Jaguars were able to shuffle the lineup and put center Brandon Linder at right guard and have Tyler Shatley start at center. Shatley had started at center the previous three games when Linder was out with an illness.
In addition, left tackle Cam Robinson aggravated a left ankle injury and had to leave the game for several plays, but he managed to return.
Then there was Ramsey, who was ejected along with Bengals receiver A.J. Green for fighting late in the first half.
None of that stopped the Jaguars, however.
Chris Ivory, T.J. Yeldon and Corey Grant filled in capably for Fournette. The trio combined to run for 128 yards, which was nearly 30 yards better than Fournette's average through his first six games (99.3 yards per game). Ivory ran for 69 yards on 20 carries and caught three passes for 34 yards.
"I've been doing it throughout my career," Ivory said. "The only time I probably didn't have as many touches was probably my second year. A lot of things get overlooked with me, which is fine. I've been dealing with this since I first got in the league, so it's nothing new for me. It's just being more noticed when you pick up big chunks of yards on passes.
"There's a reason why I've been in the league for eight years, and I'm looking to get more. So all I've got to do is stay focused and continue to grow."
The Jaguars were the NFL's top-ranked rushing team entering the game (169 yards per game) and finished with 148 rushing yards on Sunday. In addition, quarterback Blake Bortles, who threw for 195 yards in the first half and finished with 259 yards and a touchdown, was not sacked.
The defense held the Bengals to 148 total yards and sacked quarterback Andy Dalton twice. Cincinnati managed just eight first downs, went 1-for-8 on third down and finished with 29 yards rushing. The Jaguars came in with the NFL's worst rush defense (138.6 yards per game).
Special teams chipped in, too, with Jaydon Mickens returning a punt for a touchdown and Josh Lambo kicking three field goals, including a 56-yarder.
Jacksonville (5-3) maintained pace with Tennessee (5-3) in the AFC South. But by routing the Bengals at significantly less than full strength, the Jaguars will certainly make the rest of the NFL take notice that they are not only a legitimate playoff contender but a team that has the potential to do some damage.
But as ESPN.com's Mike DiRocco noted, they still have issues. Although Bortles has put together back-to-back good games, he has an up-and-down history that cannot be ignored.
Even so, this was the kind of game that used to get away from the Jaguars, especially over the past four seasons. But on Sunday they showed that they are going to be a tough out. ...
For what it's worth, Marrone told reporters after the game he was not concerned moving forward with Fournette's professionalism and that he expected Fournette to play this week. Fournette was at the game and spent much of the game sitting on the bench.
But he was gone from the locker room by the time media were allowed in. Fournette is scheduled to talk to local media Wednesday afternoon though he likely won't reveal what the team violation was that caused his suspension.
It was the second game in a row that Fournette missed, after sitting out the Indianapolis game with an ankle injury.
His return will obviously be a big deal -- especially for fantasy owners.
Opponents haven't been able to curtail Fournette, who rushed for 596 yards in his first six games. He's shown power and speed which is exactly what the Jaguars were hoping for when they selected him as the fourth overall pick of this year's draft. He opened the season with a 100-yard effort against Houston, then followed with three games of less than 90 yards each before rushing for 311 yards in the last two contests he played in.
And the truth is, the less Bortles has to pass, the better the Jaguars rushing game and offense has been.
In the Jaguars first four wins this season, Bortles threw 31 or fewer passes. In the three losses, he threw the ball 34, 35 and 35 times.
In their win over Cincinnati, Bortles threw a season-high 38 times, completing a season-best 24 passes. When the running game is going good (177.8 yards per game in the five wins), the Jaguars don't need to rely on Bortles nearly as much. While he's improved his numbers this year, including fewer interceptions, fewer sacks and a higher passer rating than a year ago, his yards are also lower.
Last year, Bortles had 10 games in which he threw for at least 245 yards. This year he's had two - a 330-yard effort against the Colts and his 259-performance against the Bengals.
The most encouraging thing about Bortles is that he's been over 63 percent accuracy in his last three games after hitting that mark just once in the first five weeks.
In addition, as NFL.com's Matt Harmon notes, for the third time this year, Marqise Lee hit double-digit targets. He has yet to go over 100 yards in any game because this passing game won't ever offer that kind of a ceiling. However, as Harmon explained, it's clear that when they do open up the playbook for Bortles, Lee turns into the funnel receiver.
Rookie receiver DeDe Westbrook was not activated before the game against Cincinnati, but he could hit the field against the Chargers this week.
But that's not certain.
Westbrook will be back on the practice field when the Jaguars begin preparations Wednesday. Whether he’ll be in the lineup for the Jaguars game against the Chargers come Sunday is another matter entirely.
The Jaguars gave some thought to pulling Westbrook off IR last week but opted against it and from listening to coach Doug Marrone, they’re not sure if they’ll pull Westbrook off IR this week either.
I'll follow up as needed in coming days. ...
And few final items. ... As noted above, Lambo converted a 56-yard field goal on Sunday, tying for the third longest in franchise history. Lambo tied the distance that Jason Myers made last year against Tennessee. Lambo replaced Myers as the Jaguars' kicker three weeks ago.
Mickens was named AFC Special Teams Player of the Week after his big punt return in this one.
QBs: Blake Bortles, Cody Kessler, Brandon Allen
RBs: Leonard Fournette, T.J. Yeldon, Corey Grant
WRs: Donte Moncrief, Keelan Cole, Dede Westbrook, Max McCaffrey, Jaelen Strong, Marqise Lee
TEs: Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Ben Koyack, Niles Paul
Kansas City ChiefsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 7 November 2017
The Chiefs opened the season with five straight wins, but they've come crashing back to Earth over the last four weeks.
Kansas City has lost three games over that span, including Sunday's 28-17 loss to the Cowboys.
That record won't change this week as the Chiefs have a bye, which is something that head coach Andy Reid is looking forward to after finding his team sluggish on Sunday.
"We didn't have a lot of energy, and we're going to take a step back here and get some rest during this bye week and kind of regain our thoughts and evaluate ourselves and go forward," Reid said, via the Kansas City Star.
The Chiefs will return to action in a road game against the Giants in Week 11. If history holds, they'll have a pretty good chance to win that game as Reid's teams are 16-2 off of byes in the regular season.
Of course, the Chiefs were carried to a 5-0 start this season largely on the strength of a high-scoring offense.
As ESPN.com's Adam Teicher noted, they arrived at their bye week Sunday night at 6-3 largely because that offense no longer resembles its early-season counterpart.
The latest example came in their 28-17 loss to the Dallas Cowboys. The Chiefs managed just a field goal until the last play of the first half, when the Cowboys gave Tyreek Hill a long touchdown by taking the concept of prevent defense to a ridiculous extreme.
The Chiefs put together a nice drive to start the second half, one that resulted in a touchdown. But that was the last time they would score.
Things were so bad that Alex Smith threw his first interception of the season, breaking his NFL record streak of 287 passes to start a season without throwing a pick.
The Chiefs can't be expected to overcome their weak defense every week. But nine games into their season, it's obvious that if the Chiefs are going to get anywhere this year, the offense will have to carry them.
It happened consistently over the season's first five games but not since. The Chiefs did manage 29 points in that one win since, last Monday night's victory over the Denver Broncos. But the Chiefs scored what they did that night with the aid of a defensive touchdown, five field goals and a lone offensive TD.
In the other games, the Chiefs managed 13 measly points against the Pittsburgh Steelers, were shut out in the crucial fourth quarter against the Oakland Raiders and then scored both of their touchdowns within a span of about six minutes against the Cowboys.
Teicher believes it's fair to blame the Chiefs' defense for their situation. The Chiefs have too many good players to play so poorly most weeks on defense.
But that's what the Chiefs are dealing with this season. They can either overcome with their offense or succumb.
Meanwhile, running back Kareem Hunt has added a much-needed dimension to Kansas City's offense, that of a versatile back. That's something the Chiefs have lacked since Jamaal Charles went down with his latest torn ACL early in the 2015 season. Hunt has made plays as a runner and a receiver.
He joined tight end Travis Kelce and Hill to give the Chiefs a dynamic group of skill players that is difficult for opponents to defend.
Hunt leads the league with 800 yards rushing and 1,131 yards from scrimmage. Hunt's contact balance that allows him extend plays and his proficiency out of the backfield are not surprises. But the ease with which he made the transition to the pro level does raise some eyebrows, especially his ability to provide pass protection.
Hunt's recent struggles on the ground, however, coincide with Kansas City dropping three of its last four games.
Hunt averaged just 48 yards rushing in those games.
Hunt remains the key to putting the Chiefs' offense back on track for the second half of the season.
In addition, Smith posted among the strongest first halves of his career, completing 69.6 percent of his passes for 2,444 yards and 18 touchdowns in the team's first nine games. All those numbers put him well on pace for career highs. Kelce and Hill remain on pace for 1,000-yard receiving seasons.
The Chiefs lead the league at 6.2 yards per play, and Smith and the passing game are the biggest reason why.
Let's hope the bye week allows them all to rest, regroup and come back stronger in Week 11.
QBs: Patrick Mahomes, Chad Henne, Tyler Bray
RBs: Kareem Hunt, Charcandrick West, Kerwynn Williams, Damien Williams, Akeem Hunt
WRs: Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins, De'Anthony Thomas, Jehu Chesson, Demarcus Robinson
TEs: Travis Kelce, Demetrius Harris
Los Angeles ChargersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 7 November 2017
Head coach Anthony Lynn of the Los Angeles Chargers took to the podium on Monday as his players took off.
"These guys have been working hard, so I gave them the week off," Lynn said.
It was the Chargers' bye week and Lynn wasted little time making it just that. Smarting from another close loss, this one coming to the New England Patriots, 21-13, had left Lynn's team frazzled.
"They were in a lot of close games, had their backs against the wall, fought back and I just felt like getting away from football and being with their families is something they needed to do this week."
The coaches will be punching the clock, trying to figure out how the Chargers sit at 3-5 after losing another game by a single score. A bounce here and there as well as better execution everywhere and the team's ledger just as easily could be flipped.
But a loss to the defending champions ended a three-game winning streak on Sunday. That had come after a four-game losing skid as the Chargers continue their uneven showing.
"It's tough because we have been in every single game and we think what could have been," Lynn said. "But you can't do that. Our record is what it is: 3-5. We have to figure out a way to win the third and fourth quarters of the season."
That means while the players will have their legs up, the coaches will have their pencils out. The ones with erasers to omit what has backfired for the Chargers.
"We'll reflect back and self-scout," Lynn said. "And we have different projects by guys trying to figure out like crazy how we can get better and how we want to move forward when the guys come back."
The Chargers will reconvene in Jacksonville on Nov. 12 against a Jaguars team that surprisingly has a share of the AFC South lead.
Now if the Chargers can just be the team that shocks everyone after their bye and in the second half.
Quarterback Philip Rivers doesn't forget the first half included an 0-4 record.
"I said if we can somehow get to 3-5 at the bye, we'll be in the hunt," he said. "And we did that.
While the season didn't start off how he wanted, ESPN.com's Eric D. Williams notes that Rivers is doing a better job of taking care of the football.
Rivers finished with a league and career-high 20 interceptions last season. But halfway through this year Rivers has just six interceptions, including a meaningless one against the Patriots on the final play of the game.
One of Lynn's points of emphasis in taking over the Chargers was taking care of the football.
For Rivers, that has meant taking less risk in pushing the ball down the field, getting to his checkdowns or throwing the ball away.
Rivers had four interceptions and a fumble in the first four games of the season, and the Chargers went 0-4. However, in the last four games, Rivers had just two interceptions and the Chargers went 3-1.
Rivers is on course to finish with 12 interceptions on the year, which would be his lowest season total since 2013, the last time the Chargers made the playoffs.
As a team, the Chargers have a plus-1 turnover differential, No. 15 in the NFL.
"Philip is, to me, the ultimate team player," offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt said. "He wants to do it the way the coach wants it done, whoever the coach is. In this case with Coach Lynn and what his philosophy is, he wants to do it the way that Coach Lynn wants it done to give us success, and he's working hard at that.
"It's not always the case with some veteran quarterbacks in this league, but I think it speaks a lot about Philip's character, and certainly his leadership."
Lynn said he's about taking advantage of matchups on offense in order to create big plays. And of the things the Chargers could look to do more effectively in the second half of the season is look for opportunity to threaten the defense down the field.
So perhaps Lynn is willing to loosen the reins a little on his conservative philosophy on offense in order to create some more scoring chances.
The Chargers have just 21 passing plays of 20 or more yards, No. 21 in the NFL.
"I believe we need to get the ball into the hands of our playmakers and look into different ways to do that -- getting the right personnel groups on the field to score points," Lynn said. "And maybe it's taking more opportunities down the field off of run action. We're looking at all of that right now."
Perhaps unleashing Keenan Allen would be a good idea.
As Williams noted, the Cal product leads the Chargers in receptions (40) and receiving yards (548), and entering Week 9, he led the NFL in catches for third-down conversions with 17. Allen gives the Chargers a true No. 1 receiver on the perimeter and creates mismatches for the rest of his teammates on offense in the passing game.
That said, Allen has been limited to one touchdown this season despite the fact that he's tied at sixth in the NFL with eight end zone targets. According to ESPN's Mike Clay, Allen's poor scoring luck appears even flukier when you consider that he entered the year with 16 career touchdowns. Despite his scoring woes, Allen entered the bye week 13th among wide receivers in fantasy points.
As Clay summed up, "He's a good bet to find the end zone more often in the second half, and thus should be a player you're targeting in trades. ..."
Meanwhile, with the Chargers making the turn into the second half, they do so knowing much of the heavy lifting has already been done. L.A.'s first eight rivals had a mark of 30-24. But in the final eight weeks, the opponents have a 24-32 mark.
Among its opponents down the stretch are the winless Browns. Of course, the only win Cleveland notched last year came when the Chargers visited. ...
Other notes of interest. ... Melvin Gordon has found his mojo, even if some of it is coming from the passing game. But Gordon has been the bell cow that Lynn envisioned as he paces the team with seven touchdowns (four rushing) and 526 yards.
The run blocking has been up and down as the team still gets everyone on the same page with a rebuilt line. Now with Matt Slauson (biceps) out, the line will have to prove it can keep plugging along with rookie Dan Feeney at right guard. Rookie Austin Ekeler has the team's only other rushing touchdown as he went 35 yards with his first NFL carry. ...
With his speed limited due to health issues last season, Travis Benjamin has displayed the skills the Chargers had hoped to see when acquiring him as a free agent last offseason. Benjamin has behind him a disappointing year to add a spark to the offense as the team's quickest pass-catcher.
Benjamin's three touchdown catches on 19 receptions leads the team's wideouts. On punt returns, Benjamin had an embarrassing moment when he fumbled a punt and was tackled in the end zone for a safety. But he's also returned one 65 yards for a score.
The next chore for the Chargers, will be further integrating rookie receiver Mike Williams into the offense. That process began before the bye, so expect more going forward.
And finally. ... The Chargers will re-sign veteran tight end Jeff Cumberland, according to SiriusXM NFL's Adam Caplan.
Cumberland signed with the team as a free agent in April 2016 but tore his Achilles' tendon in the preseason and missed the entire regular season. He spent the preseason with the Chargers this summer, but the team cut him Sept. 2.
QBs: Philip Rivers, Geno Smith, Cardale Jones
RBs: Melvin Gordon, Branden Oliver
WRs: Keenan Allen, Tyrell Williams, Travis Benjamin, Mike Williams, Geremy Davis
TEs: Antonio Gates, Sean McGrath
Los Angeles RamsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 7 November 2017
According to ESPN.com's Alden Gonzalez, days before his Rams would play a road game against the Giants, Todd Gurley told Sean McVay about how he wished the bye week could come a little bit later. The Rams were playing so well, coming off a 33-point triumph from London, and some of the players were uneasy about whether the offense could pick up where it left off after such an extended break.
Gonzalez added, "Silly Gurley."
Break or no break, flight or no flight, sun or no sun, the Rams continues to hum along.
On Sunday, in the middle of their third long trip in a four-week stretch, the Rams demoralized the reeling Giants 51-17, improving to 6-2, their best start since a 2001 season that ended in a Super Bowl appearance. It's the eighth game of the season, and the 2017 Rams have already outscored the 2016 Rams.
That's right: The 2017 Rams, off to a 6-2 start for the first time in 16 years, have already scored more points than the 2016 Rams in half the number of games.
When Robert Woods scored a 52-yard touchdown off a screen pass on third-and-33, it gave the Rams 229 points in the second quarter of their eighth game this season. The Rams scored an NFL-worst 224 points in 16 games last season while finishing 4-12. They now have 263 points this season, which trails only the Philadelphia Eagles (283).
When Sammy Watkins followed with a 67-yard touchdown catch -- on a throw completed 54 yards beyond the line of scrimmage, making it the deepest completion of Jared Goff's career -- it gave the Rams 24 touchdowns this season, matching last year's total. They now have 27 touchdowns, third most in the NFL.
The Rams have scored 40-plus points three times this season.
By comparison, they scored 40-plus points only two times in the previous 10 seasons combined. The last time they scored 40-plus points three times in the same season was in 2001, when they went to the Super Bowl. The last time they scored 40-plus points more often than that was in 2000. They've also scored 30-plus points five times this season, which is already the most they've had in a season since 2003 (seven).
Goff (14-of-22 for 311 yards) is only the fourth quarterback with a 300-plus-yard, four-touchdown, zero-interception game this season, joining Tom Brady, Russell Wilson and Alex Smith. His 146.8 passer rating Sunday is also a new career high. Prior to Goff, the last quarterback with 300-plus yards and four or more touchdowns on fewer than 15 completions was Kurt Warner in 2000.
They're the only two who have had games like that in the past 35 seasons, according to ESPN Stats and Info.
Goff was named NFC Offensive Player of the Week for his effort against the Giants.
Goff already has 13 touchdown passes this season, eight more than he had in one fewer game last season, and is on pace to throw for more than 4,000 yards.
Gurley, meanwhile, is on pace for 2,048 scrimmage yards. He added 104 scrimmage yards and two touchdowns, giving him 10 on the year -- tying the career high he set in a dynamic rookie season.
Watkins, Woods, and rookies Cooper Kupp and Gerald Everett all had at least 40 receiving yards.
Tyler Higbee added his first touchdown of the season.
Oh, and they've figured out a way to spring Tavon Austin, who has 169 yards rushing this year.
"Crazy," Gurley said. "For sure."
Crazy good. ...
Gurley was asked if McVay, who also calls the Rams' offensive plays, should be a Coach of the Year candidate.
"What's understood don't have to be explained," Gurley said.
Hard to argue the point. ...
A few final items. ... Everett is currently the only rookie tight end in the NFL with two 40-plus yard receptions this season.
Watkins' 67-yard touchdown catch was the longest receiving touchdown for the Rams since TE Lance Kendricks had an 80-yard touchdown reception at Tampa Bay (12/23/12).
As the Sports Xchange suggested, Kupp, the rookie from Eastern Washington has been everything the Rams hoped upon taking him in the third round, and he has made an immediate and consistent contribution while catching 27 passes for 370 yards and three touchdowns.
Kupp is a star in the making - if not an explosive weapon certainly someone who will be reliable and productive for years to come.
And finally. ... Greg Zuerlein is 21 of 22 on field-goal attempts, punter Johnny Hekker is averaging 47.9 yards per punt and the Rams have returned a kickoff for a touchdown, blocked a punt for a touchdown, forced a fumble on a punt and converted a first down on a fake punt.
Game in and game out the Rams special teams have been an asset.
QBs: Jared Goff, Sean Mannion
RBs: Todd Gurley, Malcolm Brown, Lance Dunbar
WRs: Robert Woods, Brandin Cooks, Cooper Kupp, Tavon Austin, Pharoh Cooper, Josh Reynolds
TEs: Tyler Higbee, Gerald Everett
Miami DolphinsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 7 November 2017
As Associated Press sports writer Steven Wine framed it, "The Miami Dolphins are a middling team at the midpoint.
"Sound familiar? It should. ..."
For the fourth time in the past six seasons, including last year, the Dolphins are 4-4. They went on to the playoffs in 2016 but aren't trending toward a repeat, with losses in the past two games and a tough second-half schedule that includes seven opponents who are above .500.
"We're probably not exactly where we want to be," head coach Adam Gase said Monday. "We've had too many ups and downs."
Gase found cause for encouragement in the latest loss, however. Squandered scoring chances and 11 penalties hurt in a 27-24 defeat against Oakland on Sunday night, but Miami's offense showed signs of life, and quarterback Jay Cutler had one of his best games of the season.
In fact, as ESPN.com's James Walker suggested, the Dolphins waited all season for this kind of performance from Cutler.
Miami's offense entered Sunday's game against the Oakland Raiders ranked last in yards per game (252.4) and points per game (13.1).
But Cutler completed his first 16 throws and finished 34-of-42 passing for 311 yards and a season-high three touchdowns. The veteran signal caller also had a 121.3 passer rating, another season high, and spread the ball around to seven receivers.
"I think he played well," Gase said. "He did a good job of getting the ball out of his hands. He threw it away a couple of times. We've just got to find ways to protect him a little better. We've got to be a little more consistent."
Much of the attention Sunday was on Miami's running backs following last week's trade of Pro Bowl tailback Jay Ajayi, who accounted for 86 percent of the team's running game before Sunday. Tailbacks Damien Williams and Kenyan Drake entered Sunday's game with just 57 combined rushing yards.
Drake, who had 69 rushing yards, made a costly mistake early in the game. He fumbled in the second quarter deep in Oakland territory, which set up a Raiders touchdown. The sequence was at least a 10-point swing against Miami.
"I need to make sure that I'm mindful of keeping it high and tight," Drake said after the game. "They do a good job of ripping at the ball and it was a costly fumble because they went down and scored on the same possession. It was a however-many point swing so I obviously need to be mindful of that. I can't let that happen."
However, Drake also produced the longest run of the season for the Dolphins with a 42-yard scamper that set up a touchdown in the third quarter. The plus and minus plays are part of the package with Drake. Williams, who got his first start of the season, rushed for 14 yards on seven carries and also had a 10-yard touchdown reception.
In general, Gase believes players responded well to his complaints about blown assignments and poor study habits, and he's optimistic the Dolphins are well-positioned for a second-half surge, beginning against Carolina Monday night.
"The guys last week prepared the right way. That's what has me somewhat excited moving forward," Gase said. "Everything is up for grabs. It's who wants to do it right. Our guys have a great opportunity. You've got a shot. You've got eight games left. See what you're made of."
"A lot of football left to play," he said. "A lot of opportunities for us to put it together."
And it's not an easy stretch. In addition to Monday night's game against the Panthers, Miami has a pair of divisional games against the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots ahead of them.
As Wine suggested, the Dolphins' best chance is to improve their discipline and consistency. Without that, Miami's second half of its season will be just as frustrating for the team as its first half.
Other notes of interest. ... Following up on the backfield, Walker pointed out that Miami's running game was less predictable Sunday than it was under Ajayi, who accounted for 86 percent of the team's rushing yards in the first seven games. There also is room for growth in utilizing the versatility of Drake and Williams more in the second half of the season.
Gase said he will continue to use and try to maximize both players offensively.
"I like where our running game is heading," the coach said. "We were able to do a couple of things where we popped a big one, which was good to see, and there was an earlier one where we were really close; Drake got tripped up in a pile of guys.
"I like where that's headed. I think it makes a difference. I think those guys out of the backfield in the passing game really made a big difference. ..."
Tight end MarQueis Gray lined up as a fullback and had a 1-yard carry against Oakland. Gray, a former college quarterback, offers lots of position versatility.
As the Sports Xchange notes, receiver Jakeem Grant is the sole kickoff returner now that Drake is handling more duties from scrimmage. Grant had two returns for 47 yards against the Raiders. Ru Senorise Perry is also deep but more as a blocker.
Tight end Julius Thomas (six receptions, 84 yards) finally showed up. Thomas was fairly consistent against Oakland, highlighted by a 27-yard reception. It's unclear whether he's capable of maintaining such production.
Cody Parkey successfully executed an onside kick in the second quarter, but couldn't repeat the feat in the fourth quarter. Parkey also missed his third extra point of the season, but hit a 49-yd field goal.
QBs: Jay Cutler, Matt Moore, Brock Osweiler, Brandon Doughty
RBs: Frank Gore, Kenyan Drake
WRs: DeVante Parker, Danny Amendola, Kenny Stills, Albert Wilson, Leonte Carroo, Jakeem Grant
TEs: Anthony Fasano, MarQueis Gray
Minnesota VikingsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 7 November 2017
As the Sports Xchange suggests, the obvious question heading into the Vikings' bye week was how the heck will the Vikings come out of their bye week?
A year ago, they went into their bye week with the league's last unbeaten record. They were 5-0 with the most opportunistic defense, the best special teams and a cautious offense that still hadn't turned the ball over.
Then everything went kablooey. The freefall began immediately with road losses to Philadelphia and Chicago followed by offensive coordinator Norv Turner quitting at 5-2. When the misery ended, the Vikings had slid to 8-8 and out of the playoffs with a Christmas Eve loss at Green Bay.
Even head coach Mike Zimmer's personal health fell apart after the loss to the Bears. Multiple eye surgeries for a detached retina left him unable to coach in the two-point home loss to the Cowboys.
So, Mike, do you think this year's team is better equipped to handle a stretch run than last year's team?
"You never really know," he said. "They've handled their business pretty good all through training camp, all through the first part of the season. Like all teams, we've had some things we had to deal with. I like how they respond to things, but just because I like it doesn't mean that's what we're going to do."
This year's team seems more stable because the offense isn't being dragged along for the ride. And that's pretty amazing when you consider that backup quarterback Case Keenum, an off-the-radar free-agent signing in the spring, has started six games and played all but six quarters this season.
Keenum has been efficient, cautious (two interceptions) and taken only five sacks in 238 pass plays. Meanwhile, the running game, which ranked last in the league a year ago, is 13th this year (120.0) despite losing rookie Dalvin Cook for the season in Week 4.
A rebuilt offensive line has been the biggest change since last season. Left tackle Riley Reiff has been superb, rookie center Pat Elflein a pleasant surprise and right tackle Mike Remmers better than expected.
"The line has been a strength for us this year," said Zimmer, who has openly criticized the offensive line in the past, including the day after the 2015 season, when he fired line coach Jeff Davidson "because I wanted to."
The line also has shown its depth. Three players have started at left guard, including rookie Danny Isadora. Starter Nick Easton, who has missed the last three games with a calf injury, is expected to return following the bye.
"We're moving the ball well offensively, which I think that's been big," Zimmer said. "It's too early to look at stats, but offensively we're 13th in (yards), where we were (28th) a year ago. So I think the way that we've improved offensively has helped the team."
Coming out of their bye this time, the Vikings are 6-2 and lead the NFC North. But they've also feasted on five home games and a trip to London to play the lowly Browns.
Now, the Vikings play four of their next five games on the road, including Sunday's game at Washington, which is coming off an upset at Seattle. After that, the Rams visit before the Vikings hit the road for games at Detroit on Thanksgiving, Atlanta and Carolina. ...
Meanwhile, Teddy Bridgewater was activated to the Vikings roster Wednesday morning.
The Vikings, however, could stick with Keenum, who will start this week, at quarterback until he falters. Not surprisingly, Minnesota is wary of removing him in favor of Bridgewater, who hasn't played a game since January 10, 2016.
As NFL.com's Kevin Patra notes, Keenum played well during the Vikings' four-game winning streak ahead of their Week 9 bye. The 29-year-old is completing 63.9 percent of his passes on the season and earned 6.9 yards per attempt, with seven touchdowns to three interceptions.
He has directed six scoring drives of at least 80 yards this season. As a team, the Vikings have eight such drives this year. That's four more than they had all of last season.
Keenum's rapport with Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs should provide confidence for the NFC North division leaders heading into a Week 10 tilt at Washington.
Sticking with Keenum would give Bridgewater more time to get back into a groove after the devastating knee injury wiped out all of 2016 and had some questioning whether the former first-round pick would ever play again in the NFL.
With Bridgewater set to come off the PUP list, the Vikings had a decision to make on their QB depth chart. With Keenum, Sam Bradford, and rookie Kyle Sloter on the roster, adding Bridgewater to the mix required a move.
The decision was made for them, however.
ESPN's Chris Mortensen reported Tuesday night that Bradford had arthroscopic surgery on Tuesday to address his ongoing knee issue. According to Mortensen, Bradford had a "clean up" procedure on his knee done by renowned orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews.
The surgery addressed a bone spur, loose particles and cartilage issues in the knee and the Vikings are considering putting Bradford on injured reserve. The move would clear the necessary space needed for Bridgewater's return, but would also force Bradford to miss at least eight weeks.
Bottom line? It's a situation I'll be watching closely in coming days, but Keenum is the starter until further notice. ...
In a related notes. ... As ESPN.com's Courtney Cronin noted, with all the question marks at quarterback and injuries to key offensive playmakers, Thielen was the most consistent threat in the first half of the season.
With Dalvin Cook sidelined for the season and Diggs battling through a groin injury, it's difficult to picture how successful the offense would be without Thielen. The wide receiver went into the bye week fourth in the NFL with 48 catches and trailed only Antonio Brown in receiving yards with 629.
Thielen has hauled in some tough catches and seems to always find a way to get open, giving Keenum the confidence that Thielen is going to come down with the ball when he throws in the receiver's direction.
Also worth noting. ... Kyle Rudolph has caught seven of eight red-zone balls thrown to him. The red-zone catches rank second among NFL tight ends. His three red-zone touchdowns rank tied for fourth.
Also, Rudolph, who struggled to stay healthy earlier in his career, has started 41 consecutive games. That's highest among Vikings players and second among NFL tight ends behind Dallas' Jason Witten (170).
And finally. ... Jerick McKinnon is the only player in the NFL to post 20 or more catches and at least four touchdowns since Week 5. He's done this despite playing just over 60 percent of the snaps.
The four scores have come on 106 touches this season. According to ESPN's Mike Clay, that includes four of 84 looks in four games since Cook went down for the season.
During those four games, McKinnon has scraped together two carries inside the opponent's 5-yard line. That's equal to Latavius Murray's total. Murray has scored only one touchdown. McKinnon entered 2017 with seven career touchdowns. He may be better than Murray, but the two continue to split carries and Clay expects McKinnon to score less often. ...
Kai Forbath is tied for second in the NFL in field goals made with 21. He has made 15 straight. But he's also 12 for 16 on PATs.
QBs: Kirk Cousins
RBs: Latavius Murray, Mack Brown, C.J. Ham
WRs: Kendall Wright, Stefon Diggs, Adam Thielen, Tavarres King, Laquon Treadwell, Michael Floyd, Rodney Adams, Stacy Coley
TEs: Kyle Rudolph, David Morgan, Blake Bell
New England PatriotsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 7 November 2017
With exactly half the season in the books in New England, the Week 9 bye was a perfect time for the Patriots coaching staff to do the sort of self-scouting that all NFL squads prioritize during the week off.
The Patriots hit the bye with a 6-2 record, riding a four-game winning streak to the top spot in the AFC East at the midpoint.
The offense, with a bit of a new look, is No. 1 in the league in terms of yards and No. 7 in points.
With 40-year-old Tom Brady throwing 16 touchdown passes and just two picks for a 106.5 rating, New England entered the bye with the NFL's No. 1 passing offense through nine weeks of action. It hasn't been perfect - the offensive line has allowed 21 sacks, on pace for the most of Brady's career - but the addition of Brandin Cooks (33 catches, 563 yards and three scores) and return of a healthy Rob Gronkowski (34-509-5) as well as pass-catching halfback James White's team-best 43 catches have combined to overcome the preseason loss of Julian Edelman to a torn ACL.
But after opening the season with 30-plus points in three of the first four games, New England has failed to even reach 25 points in each of its last four, the first time it's had such a streak since 2009.
Penalties, pass protection, an inconsistent run game and red-zone execution have been obvious deficiencies at various points throughout the first half of the season.
"I would say putting more points up on the board," Gronkowski said of what the offense needs to do better in the second half of the schedule. "Red area - we've been getting stopped quite a bit, just kicking field goals. We had six field-goal attempts last game (against the Chargers), so I would say we've got to improve in that area for sure. Finishing the drive and putting points up on the board."
Restricted free-agent addition Mike Gillislee has been a major disappointment with a 3.6-yard average on his 98 attempts, failing to fill the void of LeGarrette Blount's departure. Dion Lewis led the Patriots' 16th-ranked rush attack in attempts in three straight games leading into the bye, with mixed results, though he does have a 4.7-yard average on his 58 attempts.
New England averaged below 3.8 yards an attempt in four of its first eight games leaving head coach Bill Belichick declaring that the team needs more production from its ground game.
Does the NFL's No. 1 offense have an identity at this point?
"It's hard to say one thing is the identity," coordinator Josh McDaniels said. "We try to be balanced and try to do a lot of things well, but right now I'd say we've just got to move forward and try to improve the things that we don't do as well as we'd like to."
While the No.1-ranked New England offense is working to improve from a position of relative strength, the 32nd-ranked defense has far more to accomplish in the coming weeks and months. Injuries to top cornerbacks Stephon Gilmore and Eric Rowe, communication issues in the back end, a limited pass rush and too many big plays allowed were the hallmarks of Matt Patricia's unit over the first two months.
With the talk of 19-0 long in the rearview mirror thanks to the opening-night loss to the Chiefs and the ups and downs of the first half resulting in a more-than-respectable 6-2 mark, New England has indeed put itself in position to have a chance in the end. And if history is an indicator, Belichick's team generally plays its best football late in the year.
With the bye week to lay the foundation for the second half, that's the plan once again. ...
New England will play five of its next six games on the road. That begins with this Sunday night's trip to Denver to take on the stumbling Broncos, followed by a Week 11 battle with the disappointing Raiders, that game in Mexico City.
With consecutive distant road games, both of which will be played at a high altitude, New England will leave this Friday for Denver and then remain in Colorado next week to prepare for the Oakland game. ...
Other notes of interest. ... Chris Hogan suffered a shoulder injury in the pre-bye win over the Chargers when he took a post-catch hit from the helmet of L.A. linebacker Hayes Pullard. After Hogan was seen wearing a sling in the postgame locker room last Sunday, NFL Network reported that his Monday MRI came back negative and that surgery was not necessary, though he could be "out a few weeks."
Hogan has not been on the practice field since he was injured and he was reportedly still in a sling on Wednesday; I'll have more on his status via Late-Breaking Update as the week progresses. ...
According to Boston Globe staffer Nora Princiotti, McDaniels said that Phillip Dorsett has been working extra with WRs coach Chad O'Shea over the bye. McDaniels added that Dorsett and the team want his role to expand.
Brian Hoyer signed with New England Nov. 1, filling the backup quarterback void left by the trade of Garoppolo by agreeing to a reported three-year contract. The ninth-year veteran actually began his NFL career as an undrafted rookie out of Michigan State in New England in 2009.
After three seasons with the Patriots, he moved on to the Steelers (2012), Cardinals (2012), Browns (2013-14), Texans (2015), Bears (2016) and most recently the 49ers, where he was cut following the Garoppolo acquisition. In 55 games with 37 starts, Hoyer has completed 833-of-1,404 passes for 9,852 yards with 48 touchdowns and 30 interceptions.
Stephen Gostkowski was not on the practice field for the bye-week workout Nov. 1 during the media viewing window. Though he has no known injury, Gostkowski did leave the sideline for a short period following a missed field goal in last Sunday's win over the Chargers and also spent time afterward riding the stationary bike in the New England bench area.
QBs: Tom Brady, Brian Hoyer
RBs: Rex Burkhead, Jeremy Hill, James White, Mike Gillislee, James Develin
WRs: Chris Hogan, Kenny Britt, Cordarrelle Patterson, Phillip Dorsett, Malcolm Mitchell, Matt Slater
TEs: Rob Gronkowski, Troy Niklas, Dwayne Allen
New Orleans SaintsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 7 November 2017
As ESPN.com's Mike Triplett suggested, the New Orleans Saints' sixth straight victory was so thorough and dominating that the only time the Tampa Bay Buccaneers really put up a fight was during a sideline skirmish in the third quarter.
According to ESPN Stats and Information, New Orleans is now just the third team in the Super Bowl era to go from 0-2 to 6-2. The others (1993 Cowboys and 2007 Giants) went on to win the Super Bowl.
It's a little early to predict the Saints will make it 3-for-3, but this was probably their most complete victory yet, and they remained in control of the NFC South by climbing to 2-0 in the division.
Up next is a trip to Buffalo that should tell us even more about what the Saints are made of in a matchup of two of the league's surprise teams of 2017.
Meanwhile, Triplett also reminded readers this week that names such as Reggie Bush and Darren Sproles got tossed around when the New Orleans Saints drafted versatile runner/receiver Alvin Kamara in the third round out of Tennessee.
And so far, the rookie who leads the NFL with 6.0 yards per rush and leads the Saints with five touchdowns has absolutely lived up to that lofty hype.
The highlight came Sunday when he tossed around Buccaneers safety Justin Evans on his way to a 33-yard screen pass touchdown.
"I wasn't surprised," Kamara said when asked about how pretty much everyone else in the building thought he was down. "I was just smelling the end zone. I was like, 'Man, I gotta get in here.' Like redemption (for the first lost fumble of his career on the previous drive). So I was happy I got in there."
Evans grabbed Kamara around the waist near the 12-yard line. But Kamara planted his hand in the ground before his knee hit. Then he made a sharp cutback as Evans went flying off him. He also made Buccaneers cornerback Ryan Smith whiff on the cutback. Then he followed a terrific block by Saints receiver Michael Thomas against defensive tackle Clinton McDonald into the end zone.
Offensive linemen Josh LeRibeus and Max Unger also deserve credit for their blocking on the play.
The 5-10, 215-pound Kamara laughed when asked about his special level of balance -- something he said he has been asked about before.
Maybe, he suggested, it has something to do with the hip stability drills that he and Mark Ingram and Ted Ginn on Thursdays. But mostly, "it's been pretty natural."
"I mean, I've always had pretty good balance. But I can't really explain it," Kamara said. "It's just like that energy, when you see that end zone, I'm trying to get in there by any means."
Kamara scored two touchdowns in Sunday's 30-10 rout over the Buccaneers. But Ingram, the other part of New Orleans' dynamic backfield duo, was no slouch himself. Ingram rushed 16 times for 77 yards -- a nice bounce-back after he had lost two fumbles in the fourth quarter of last week's win over Chicago.
Triplet wondered if Ingram's fumbles might affect the pecking order in New Orleans' backfield. Kamara did get the start Sunday and the first three carries, but they quickly began mixing and matching as usual.
Kamara's stellar play should only increase his workload going forward. But clearly the Saints will keep relying heavily on both backs.
Ingram ranks 10th in the NFL among running backs with 733 yards from scrimmage (he had 16 carries for 77 yards against the Bucs). Kamara ranks 13th with 652 yards from scrimmage.
"Listen, Alvin is doing a lot of good things. He's very versatile. He can be in the game at any moment, in any personnel group," quarterback Drew Brees said. "We feel comfortable with his skill set -- as we do with Mark. But it's a great one-two punch. ..."
And it's looking like a case where fantasy owners will benefit from both members of the committee. ...
Other notes of interest. ... Brees hasn't had to carry the team as he generally has, but the passing game still has remained one of the primary reasons for the team's success. Even with virtually no contribution from Willie Snead, Brees have been consistently efficient connecting with Thomas, Ginn, Kamara and Ingram.
Ginn continues to be a big part of New Orleans' offense, especially as a home run threat. He and Brees failed to connect on what would have been an easy 87-yard TD pass early in the game when Ginn broke wide open.
It's unclear whether Brees made a bad throw or expected Ginn to run a different route.
Either way, it was a miss that Brees clearly regretted. Later in the game, they made up for it with a 36-yard TD connection. Ginn finished with four catches for 59 yards.
After catching 69 and 72 passes in the last two seasons, Snead seemed poised to have an even bigger season this year because New Orleans traded Brandin Cooks in the offseason. But Snead missed the first three games while suspended for an offseason DWI arrest and he sustained a hamstring injury when he returned to practice. That has limited his playing time and he has caught just one pass for 11 yards.
On Sunday, he replaced Ginn, who has surpassed him as the No. 2 receiver, on punt returns and lost a fumble that led to the Bucs' only touchdown.
Wil Lutz had a below-average day against the Bucs. His extra-point attempt after New Orleans' first touchdown was blocked and he was replaced by P Thomas Morstead on the ensuing kickoff. Lutz later missed a 43-yard field-goal attempt, though he resumed his kickoff duties and had five touchbacks on five kickoffs.
One last note here. ... Thomas did not participate in Wednesday's practice. He missed some practice time with a sore knee two weeks ago; I'll follow up with more when Late-Breaking Updates crank up early Thursday.
QBs: Drew Brees, Tom Savage
RBs: Mark Ingram, Jonathan Williams, Alvin Kamara, Daniel Lasco
WRs: Michael Thomas, Ted Ginn, Willie Snead, Brandon Coleman, TommyLee Lewis
TEs: Ben Watson, Josh Hill, Michael Hoomanawanui
New York GiantsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 7 November 2017
It was miserable to watch, but head coach Ben McAdoo insists the Giants didn't quit in their ugly, one-sided loss to the Los Angeles Rams.
While the Giants' performance in the 51-17 thrashing was ugly and unacceptable, McAdoo hesitated to say Monday that his team played hard to the end. The second-year coach said he didn't see his players loafing or giving up on plays, signs he says would show a team that quit.
The second-year coach also said two-time Super Bowl MVP Eli Manning will remain the starting quarterback, and that players and coaches will be held accountable for the poor play.
"Every position needs to be held accountable and every position needs to be held to a high standard," McAdoo said. "Same thing with the coaches, and obviously when you lose in the fashion we did yesterday, it is not good enough, anywhere, coaching or playing."
Less than a year after leading New York to the playoffs with an 11-5 regular-season record, McAdoo is clearly under fire after losing seven of the first eight games in what many expected to be another playoff season. His team is not only losing, but he has suspended cornerbacks Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Janoris Jenkins in the past month for violating team rules. It's a sign of internal problems.
Jenkins was reinstated on Tuesday.
There have been calls for the 40-year-old McAdoo to see what rookie quarterback Davis Webb can do. The third-round pick has not been active for a game this year.
Webb is a third-round pick out of California who has been inactive for all eight games this season. Geno Smith came into Sunday's game to finish for Manning. Smith threw a pair of incompletions and took some hard hits in his only drive.
McAdoo said after Sunday's game that he would consider using some young players, and no position was being excluded.
However, he said Manning would get the start this weekend when the Giants travel to San Francisco to face the winless 49ers.
Manning is the Giants' highest-paid player at age 37. He went 20-of-36 for 220 yards with two touchdown passes and an interception on Sunday. He also lost a fumble, his third of the season.
He also missed three potential long touchdowns in the first half, including a pass to Sterling Shepard deep down the middle of the field that likely would've gone for a 75-yard score in the second quarter. He later missed an open Tavarres King in the end zone on consecutive plays before halftime.
"Yeah, I've got to hit those," Manning said. "I've got to hit that, especially the one to Shep."
"It's disappointing," McAdoo said. "We had chances down the field. We got to make those throws and make those catches. It's pro football. We got to catch them on all opportunities like that. You don't get many in the game."
But as ESPN.com's Jordan Raanan reminded readers, the Giants' problems stretch beyond their quarterback. They're missing star wide receiver Odell Beckham and Brandon Marshall, who are out for the season with injuries.
The offense isn't operating smoothly, no matter who is at quarterback. The Giants are averaging just over 16 points a game, near the bottom of the league.
On Sunday, five different Giants combined to drop seven passes, according to ESPN Stats and Information. It was their most drops since Week 15 of the 2007 season.
When told that McAdoo was considering changes, Manning said he wanted to play.
"I am glad he said that," McAdoo said. "He's a pro football player, that is what he should be saying. Eli is our quarterback. That doesn't mean at some point we won't throw another guy in there to get a look at him."
The fact is, the Giants played a horrible game in all three phases in losing their fourth straight at home. They missed tackles, had three turnovers, saw a punt blocked, and gave up six plays of 35 yards or more in their most one-sided loss (34 points) since a 38-0 loss at Carolina in 2013.
It was the most one-sided at home since Nov. 15, 1998 (37-3 to Green Bay). The previous largest deficit in MetLife Stadium was 30 points (40-10) to Indianapolis on Nov. 3, 2014.
Too many more weeks like this, and the Giants may be forced to turn to Webb.
As Associated Press sports writer Tom Canavan suggested, they would at least see what he brings to the table in order to determine whether they need to address the quarterback position high in next year's draft.
We'll see if Manning and Co. can get things on track in San Francisco this week. ...
Looking for positives?
How about Evan Engram? As Raanan noted, the rookie tight end is the only Giant who can get into the end zone these days. He has scored in three straight games since Beckham and Marshall were lost for the season. Engram leads the Giants in yards (412), catches (34) and touchdowns (4) right now.
In addition, Engram has begun to show improvement as an in-line blocker for the running game.
Also of interest. ... As the Sports Xchange notes, it took an injury to starter Paul Perkins for the coaching staff to realize that the future of the running game, at least for the rest of this year, is with Orleans Darkwa and rookie Wayne Gallman and that they're much better off running to the right than to the left.
With that said, Darkwa and Gallman's efforts haven't been enough to bring the Giants out of the bottom third of the league in team rushing; the 27th-ranked Giants offense is averaging 86.8 yards per game, partly due to the inconsistency on the field and partly due to a coaching staff that seems to look for any excuse to abandon the run and go to the passing game.
Still, as NFL.com's Matt Franciscovich suggested, Darkwa could be a sneaky sleeper against the 49ers, so you'll want to find room in a flex spot to get him in the lineup.
QBs: Eli Manning, Davis Webb
RBs: Orleans Darkwa, Jonathan Stewart, Wayne Gallman, Shane Vereen, Paul Perkins
WRs: Sterling Shepard, Roger Lewis, Travis Rudolph, Ed Eagan
TEs: Evan Engram, Jerell Adams, Rhett Ellison
New York JetsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 7 November 2017
Josh McCown signed with the New York Jets after compiling a 2-20 record as a starter in his three previous seasons. In most cases, a 2-20 record results in permanent unemployment, but the Jets were desperate for a seasoned quarterback, and McCown still had some unfinished business in the NFL.
"Behold," ESPN.com's Rich Cimini, "the perfect marriage."
"Josh has been playing great," said head coach Todd Bowles, who as Cimini notes, uses the word "great" about once or twice a year.
McCown has topped a 100 passer rating in six of nine games, which is pretty great. The only other quarterback who can say he's done it six times is Alex Smith of the Kansas City Chiefs, and he's considered an MVP candidate.
Now for the odd part: As well as he's playing, Cimini reports that McCown already is starting to hear rumblings about his job security. At 4-5, the Jets are on the periphery of playoff contention, and soon the inevitable narrative likely will emerge: Bench the old guy and play the kids if they lose next Sunday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The bye week follows, a possible opening for a quarterback change.
But as Cimini contends, replacing McCown would be a mistake at this juncture of the season because it's never a good idea to demote one of your most productive players. The other players would look sideways at Bowles if he were to make a change because it would be akin to throwing in the towel.
Fantasy owners would, too.
Fortunately, Bowles is in no rush to make such a move -- nor should he be. He wants to build a team of fighters, and it would be hypocritical if he sends his best guy to the bench. There will come a time when it might be a good idea to hold a quasi-audition for Christian Hackenberg and Bryce Petty, but that time is at least a few weeks away.
The truth is, the Jets don't need to see Petty and Hackenberg to know what they have. They know. Both quarterbacks received extended playing time in the preseason -- Hackenberg, in particular -- and the results weren't franchise altering. Their offseason quarterback plans won't hinge on a late-season evaluation of the two passers.
For curiosity sake, Cimini believes the Jets should give Hackenberg a start or two at the end of the year if they're eliminated, but anything more than that is just change for the sake of change. Unless McCown hits a severe slump, he should remain in place.
"I think he's in such a comfort zone with himself right now, understanding the game and seeing it, that he's having a lot of fun," Bowles said. "And I'm enjoying watching it."
McCown hasn't played this well since with the Chicago Bears in 2013, when he started five games for the injured Jay Cutler and posted a touchdown-interception ratio of 13-1. He believes the current stretch is his best because, unlike 2013, he didn't have a lot of practice time with some of his key weapons. He credited his teammates and coaches with this year's success.
"That's really helped me and allowed me to play some good football," he said. "Hopefully, we continue to grow together and get even better."
As Cimini summed up, "Let McCown run with this. The Jets, of all teams, shouldn't be looking to disrupt a quarterback on a roll. ..."
In a related note. ... Jermaine Kearse, Robby Anderson and Jeremy Kerley have combined for 1,080 receiving yards and nine touchdowns, more than anybody could've expected from the receivers coming out of camp. There haven't been a lot of chunk plays (12.7 yards per catch, 18th), but they don't beat themselves. In fact, the Jets' receiving corps has the fewest drops in the league -- one (Anderson), according to ESPN Stats and Information.
Anderson has a chance to be special if he stays focused. Rookies ArDarius Stewart and Chad Hansen haven't contributed, and that's disappointing.
Also disappointing: Kerley has been suspended four games without pay by the NFL for violating the league's policy on performance enhancing substances.
The NFL says in a statement Monday that Kerley's suspension begins immediately. He will be eligible to return to the Jets' active roster on Dec. 11, the day after New York plays at Denver. The next game in which Kerley will be able to play will be at New Orleans on Dec. 17.
In a statement released by his representatives, Kerley says he was "shocked" to test positive for Turinabol. He adds that he has never used steroids and fully intends to investigate what caused the positive test.
Kerley, who has 22 catches for 217 yards and a touchdown, says he has always been and will continue to be "a clean player."
Other notes of interest. ... As Cimini noted, the Jets are a middle-of-the-pack team in most of the major rushing categories. They have only six runs of at least 20 yards, including four by Bilal Powell, who has 75- and 51-yarders.
It's not the flashiest backfield, but Powell, Matt Forte and Elijah McGuire are grinders.
The trio is among the top 24 in yards after contact per rush. Forte isn't as elusive as he once was, but he's making an impact as a receiver with 29 catches, only one shy of last season's total. They have a coordinator, John Morton, who knows how to utilize his strengths. McGuire opened eyes with a 69-yard touchdown run, but he hasn't been able to recapture that magic.
Also. ... The Jets have re-discovered the tight-end position. The team that ranked dead last in receptions over the previous two seasons has jumped to 10th (44 catches). Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Eric Tomlinson complement each other nicely, with Seferian-Jenkins used as a receiver, Tomlinson a blocker.
This has been a breakout year for Seferian-Jenkins, who turned around his life and his game. He's on pace for 66 receptions. Tomlinson is one of the most under-rated players on the team.
One last item here. ... Forte (knee) did not practice Wednesday; in addition Hackenberg has a right finger bruise and he was limited. I'll follow up via Late-Breaking Update as needed in coming days.
QBs: Teddy Bridgewater, Bryce Petty, Christian Hackenberg
RBs: Matt Forte, Isaiah Crowell, Bilal Powell, Elijah McGuire, Thomas Rawls
WRs: Robby Anderson, Jermaine Kearse, Neal Sterling, Andre Roberts, Terrelle Pryor, Chad Hansen, ArDarius Stewart
TEs: Eric Tomlinson, Will Tye, Jordan Leggett
Oakland RaidersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 7 November 2017
As ESPN.com's Paul Gutierrez reported it, Derek Carr got reacquainted with a pair of buddies on prime-time national television at Hard Rock Stadium. And the Oakland Raiders are better for it.
"On this end of South Beach, Carr's deep passing game," Gutierrez wrote. "On the other side of the world-famous party strip, Marshawn Lynch, back after serving a one-game suspension for making contact with an official.
"And as much as you could make the chicken-and-the-egg argument for each, it was Lynch's presence and pounding attack that set up Carr nicely. Just as it had been planned this offseason, when Lynch was acquired in a trade from the Seattle Seahawks after he took a year off in retirement. ..."
The result was a 27-24 victory over the Miami Dolphins that improved Oakland's record to 4-5 and moved them into second place in the AFC West, behind the 6-3 Kansas City Chiefs.
"Coach wanted to get our run game going to help the pass attack, the play-action and all that kind of stuff, which it did," said Carr, who passed for 300 yards while completing 21 of 29 throws, with a touchdown and an interception. In fact, it was the second time in his four-year career he had thrown for at least 300 yards in three straight games.
"My goal is to complete them all -- I'm mad at myself when I don't -- but if those are the mistakes, we're going to be OK."
But about those deep shots.
Carr, who has looked uncomfortable in the pocket this season waiting for plays to develop downfield, completed a career high-tying 11 of 16 passes thrown more than 10 yards, going for 250 yards and a touchdown, with that interception, too. This after entering the game completing less than 45 percent of such passes on the season, with a 5-for-11 rate and two picks on such passes in last week's loss at the Buffalo Bills.
Then there was Lynch, who rejoined the team Tuesday night. He had a tough go of it early against the Dolphins' front seven, spearheaded by Ndamukong Suh. But to the Raiders' credit, they did not abandon the run. And it paid off.
Because at halftime, Lynch had just 8 yards in five carries, and the Raiders led 13-9.
"We wanted to run the ball," head coach Jack Del Rio said. "We wanted to be able to run the ball. Still not quite what we'd like to have, but it was good to see some moments where it came together the way we're wanting to see it done."
Like on his third carry of the third quarter, after squirting through for gains of 3 and 14 yards, Lynch broke free up the middle on a vintage Beast Mode run. Twenty-two yards later, Lynch had his first TD since Week 5.
Lynch broke it out again with less than five minutes to go in the game when he pounded it in from 3 yards out, working as the closer the Raiders wanted to give them a 27-16 lead after a six-play, 87-yard drive.
Carr was effusive in his praise.
"A lot more jokes, a lot more him talking trash to me, which is good. Keeps me on my toes," Carr said of Lynch and his return.
"To have him back, he's our brother. We love him. We love playing with him, we love practicing with him. He's just a good teammate. He really is. Fun to be around. ... [But] the more that we can run the ball, the more stress taken off me. And I'm all for that."
Plus, it allows him to throw the ball deep again, right?
The defense had its struggles, allowing Jay Cutler to complete 81 percent of his passes and throw for 311 yards, while taking only one sack. But Oakland was able to limit the big plays and come up with two key stops following a successful surprise onside kick in the first half and a lost fumble in the second half that gave Miami the ball near midfield.
It added up to Oakland's second win in three games following a four-game skid that had dealt a major blow to the team's playoff hopes.
"You want to get hot at the right time," Del Rio said. "For us, there's no time like the present."
The Raiders have a difficult closing stretch that starts with a "home" game in Mexico City on Nov. 19 against the defending champion New England Patriots. Oakland also has a trip to the team with the NFL's top record, Philadelphia, on Christmas night, and a road game at first-place Kansas City. It also has home games against Dallas, Denver and the New York Giants, along with a season-ending road game against the Chargers.
But this was a good weekend overall for the Raiders, who cut Kansas City's lead in the AFC West to two games and made up ground on Baltimore and Buffalo, two teams in playoff contention who already had beaten Oakland. ...
For what it's worth, the Raiders will hold a couple of practices during the bye week with hopes of developing some of the young players and to begin preparing for the game in Mexico City. ...
Also of interest. ... Despite missing one game with a chest injury, Michael Crabtree entered Week 9 leading the Raiders in receiving yards (411), yards per catch (12.5) and touchdowns (6). He also has been an invaluable safety valve for Carr as his most clutch pass-catcher.
Still, as Gutierrez notes, all six of Crabtree's touchdowns have come at home, signaling a need for Crabtree and the offense to be more, well-rounded.
Tight end Jared Cook leads the Raiders in receptions (39) and yards (499). Amari Cooper has one big game and has been MIA. Lots of drops across the board, with Cooper (10) the main culprit.
Carr became the fourth quarterback in franchise history to surpass 13,000 yards passing, joining Ken Stabler (19,708), Rich Gannon (17,585) and Daryle Lamonica (16,655).
Lynch has 55 rushing touchdowns since 2011, the most in the NFL.
QBs: Derek Carr, E.J. Manuel, Connor Cook
RBs: DeAndre Washington, Jalen Richard, Marshawn Lynch, Doug Martin
WRs: Jordy Nelson, Amari Cooper, Seth Roberts, Johnny Holton
TEs: Jared Cook, Lee Smith
Philadelphia EaglesCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 7 November 2017
As ESPN.com's Tim McManus suggested, the Eagles went from very good to downright scary with the addition of running back Jay Ajayi. Just ask the Denver Broncos.
Acquired from the Miami Dolphins on Tuesday, Ajayi made an instant impact in his Philly debut, breaking off a 46-yard touchdown run as part of an eight-carry, 77-yard performance that helped the Eagles cruise past Denver, 51-23.
"It was special," Ajayi said afterwards. "First off, it's my first touchdown of the season, and it's exciting for it to have been in Philly in my first game as an Eagle. I don't think it could have been written any better than that."
The Eagles, now 8-1, entered the game as the third-ranked offense in the NFL. Still, executive vice president of football operations Howie Roseman stayed aggressive at the trade deadline and worked up a deal with old friend Mike Tannenbaum, who holds the same title with the Dolphins, sending a 2018 fourth-round pick to Miami for the 24-year-old Ajayi.
While there were reported concerns about the long-term health of Ajayi's knee and his effect on Miami's locker room, the Eagles believed Ajayi could be a system and identity fit based on joint practices with the Dolphins this summer. They were willing to take a risk in hopes he would regain his 2016 Pro Bowl form when he rushed for close to 1,300 yards and eight touchdowns.
Ajayi's longest run this season with the Dolphins was 21 yards, but he found his home run swing in his first game with his new team. Key blocks from left tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai, guard Stefen Wisniewski and center Jason Kelce helped open a massive hole along the left side late in the opening half. Ajayi showed the burst that the Eagles were eager to add to accelerate through it and finished the run with a dive over the pylon.
Even though the Eagles ranked fourth in rushing entering Week 9, there was no running back on the roster that possessed the type of playmaking potency Ajayi brings.
"A special offensive line. ... Great running back room. I am glad to be a part of the dynamic that we have in there," Ajayi said. "Look, that's a great defense that we just ran on. We put 200 yards on that team over there. I think you have to tip your hat to all of us that ran the ball today."
The Eagles got production from four different running backs Sunday, including LeGarrette Blount and rookie Corey Clement, who found the end zone twice for a combined total of 197 yards.
With him in the mix, the Eagles look even more formidable as NFC contenders.
They have MVP candidate Carson Wentz, who threw four more touchdowns against the Broncos to up his total to 23, which leads the league.
Wentz is first Eagles QB with 23 or more TD passes in the first nine games of the season.
In addition, the Wentz-Alshon Jeffery connection (six catches, 84 yards, two TDs) is starting to heat up, Wentz proving he can keep the passing attack flying high even without the services of tight end Zach Ertz, who was out because of a hamstring injury.
Jeffery had two touchdown catches Sunday against the Broncos. It was just the third multiple-TD game of Jeffery's career and his first since November of 2014. Jeffery has a team-high 13 third-down receptions and is second on the Eagles in red-zone TD catches with three. Ertz has six.
"Whenever my number's called, I'm just trying to make a play," said Jeffery, who signed a one-year deal with the Eagles in March
All of this came against the top-rated defense in football.
Add in the continued strong play of Jim Schwartz's defense (two takeaways, three sacks), and this appears to be the best team in football. They're feeling even better heading into their bye week with Ajayi now in the fold. ...
One last note. ... Fireworks go off at Lincoln Financial Field every time the Eagles score. At least until the end of Sunday's game.
The Eagles' offense scored seven touchdowns and by the end of the game they couldn't do any more fireworks displays because they ran out.
"Apologies, we actually ran out of fireworks," the team posted on Twitter.
The Eagles have scored an NFL-high 32 touchdowns and 283 points this season. They should be sure they are well-stocked on fireworks for the rest of the year.
QBs: Nick Foles
RBs: Jay Ajayi, Corey Clement, Kenjon Barner, Wendell Smallwood
WRs: Mike Wallace, Alshon Jeffery, Nelson Agholor, Mack Hollins, Shelton Gibson
TEs: Zach Ertz, Richard Rodgers
Pittsburgh SteelersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 7 November 2017
The Pittsburgh Steelers are 6-2 and tied for the best record atop the AFC along with the Patriots and Chiefs. They ascended to first place in the AFC North and have a two-game lead over the Ravens mostly because of their defense.
The Steelers are No. 2 in the NFL in scoring defense, allowing 16.4 points per game. They are also second in pass defense and sacks and fourth in total defense.
And yet, after Matthew Stafford threw for 423 yards Sunday night, there are questions as to whether the defense can hold up against an elite quarterback. Stafford was the first quarterback to take advantage of the Steelers this season, but he did it in convincing and familiar fashion.
Like Tom Brady did nine months earlier, Stafford found the soft spots in the Steelers' zone defense, completing passes all over the field to a number of different receivers. So, while the statistics say the Steelers are among the best defenses in the NFL, there will be questions when the Steelers face another elite quarterback.
Brady visits Heinz Field in December in a matchup that could determine home-field advantage in the AFC. Will the Steelers move away from their patented zone and play more man coverage in that game? Or others when they face a quarterback that knows how to beat zone coverage?
The Steelers have the personnel to do it. They signed former Pro Bowler Joe Haden just before the season started, and he's solidified the secondary.
"I'm comfortable with it," defensive backs coach Carnell Lake said. "I really am. We'll continue to evolve in that area. The thing about it is we have a full playbook at our disposal now. It helps that Joe has man-to-man coverage ability. If you have guys who can play man you feel comfortable about playing it."
Haden said the switch to more man coverage would be a relatively simple adjustment the Steelers could pull out when needed.
"Man is probably one of the simplest coverages as far as understanding what you got," Haden said. "It's man-to-man. You got your dude and everyone else has their guy. When you play zone, you got guys passing through zones, and it's a little tougher. In man, you know your assignment. You have to be able to stay on top of your guy."
While the defense carried the Steelers in the first half, the offense will be looking to pick things up in the second half.
The Steelers have been average or below average across the board on offense. They are 11th in the league in total offense, seventh in passing offense, 16th in rushing offense and 20th in scoring. Their 20.9 points-per-game average is due to a red-zone offense that has underperformed and ranks 30th in the league.
"I know the red area is a hot topic, but we've been there more than most teams," offensive coordinator Todd Haley said. "I think we're third-most in the league (they are third). I gave the example to the players last week. Detroit was third in the league in the red zone (touchdown efficiency), but they had only been in there 15 times. We've scored the third-most points (in the red zone). (Actually, they are tied for fifth.) The bottom line is get there as much as we can. We have a very good kicker. Obviously, we want to finish with touchdowns, but you're not always going to be able to do that. You're not always going to want to take the risk that comes with that.
"Sometimes, as our team grows and develops on both sides of the ball, we just want to continue to keep getting in there and make sure we're not giving points away by sacking ourselves out of field-goal range, by turning the football over and doing some of the things that really hurt you. Our mindset is if we get in there a bunch and keep doing the things we have to do and execute it will work out the right way.
The good news, from a fantasy perspective, is we know what to expect.
"Our identity is to give 26 (Bell) the ball and let our best players make plays when they can, and that's a great formula of winning," receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey said.
Throw in a healthy dose of Antonio Brown, and you have the Steelers' recipe for production. ...
Meanwhile, Martavis Bryant said on Monday that he expects to be in the lineup against the Colts this weekend after serving a one-game suspension.
Head coach Mike Tomlin has the same expectation.
Tomlin said on Tuesday that he believes Bryant will play on Sunday after being disciplined for the team due to social media posts about his role and other players on the team.
"He did a nice job of dealing with the suspension and working hard to get better at his craft," Tomlin said, via the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. "That being said, we're moving forward. As in all cases, even with the injured guys, we'll let preparation and what happens in that preparation be our guide. But I'm comfortable with the trajectory of where he is coming off the missed action."
JuJu Smith-Schuster, who was mentioned in a Bryant posting, had a big game against the Lions while Bryant was serving his ban. That should have the rookie joining Brown as the team's top wideout options unless Bryant recovers his 2015 form upon his return to action.
Remember, Smith-Schuster has scored four times already this season. According to ESPN's Mike Clay, the rookie has found the end zone on 11.1 percent of his looks, which ranks 11th out of 229 players with at least 20 looks this year.
Smith-Schuster scored one of the season's most improbable touchdowns when he caught a 97-yarder that required 72 yards after the catch in Detroit. Smith-Schuster's other touchdowns have required post-catch runs of at least 5 yards, as he failed to haul in his lone end zone target this year.
If the rookie's playing time and target share keep up, he'll be on the WR3 radar, but Clay believes it's fair to expect a dip in touchdown rate.
QBs: Ben Roethlisberger, Landry Jones, Josh Dobbs
RBs: Le'Veon Bell, Terrell Watson, Stevan Ridley
WRs: Martavis Bryant, Eli Rogers, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Justin Hunter, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Antonio Brown
TEs: Jesse James, Xavier Grimble, Vance McDonald
San Francisco 49ersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 7 November 2017
According to the Associated Press, the goal for Kyle Shanahan during the remaining seven games of this season is identifying players to keep around through a franchise-wide rebuilding project.
He'll certainly find out who can handle adversity. The 49ers fell to 0-9 on Sunday with their 20-10 loss to the Arizona Cardinals, extending the team's worst start in franchise history. The Browns are the league's only other winless team.
"There's not a doubt in my mind we'll get through this," Shanahan said Monday. "It's when you get through it, are you going to be better from it or worse? And I know I'll be better and I expect our team will be better."
Shanahan signed a six-year contract with San Francisco when hired in February. It's no surprise the team has struggled as Shanahan and first-year general manager John Lynch began building a foundation of continuity after three coaches were fired the previous three seasons.
But things have been made worse by a slew of injuries to key players. The 49ers on Sunday were without top offensive lineman Joe Staley and their leading receiver Pierre Garcon, who's done for the year because of a non-displaced fracture in his neck. Also out was recent third-overall draft pick Solomon Thomas, free safety Jimmie Ward (injured reserve) and 2015 first-round pick Arik Armstead.
Making things worse, promising third-year safety Jaquiski Tartt is expected to go on injured reserve after fracturing his arm in the first half against Arizona.
The 49ers went into the game with 15 players on injured reserve and are expected to add three more this week: Tartt, tight end Cole Hikutini (knee) and tackle Garry Gilliam (knee).
In addition, Shanahan announced on Monday the 49ers will be without TE George Kittle (ankle), WR Trent Taylor (broken rib) and LB Elijah Lee Sunday against the Giants.
The injuries mean Shanahan will have to rely on reserves for his first win as a head coach. San Francisco has one of its most winnable games coming up, a home matchup against the 1-7 Giants.
"It takes mentally strong people, because right now you can sit there and look for every excuse in the world and people will try to give it to you. But that doesn't matter," Shanahan said. "Your record is what it is at the end of the year. And you got to do everything you can fight to improve at and make sure that you're getting better and not worse.
And I know we got a huge challenge ahead of us right now. I know it's gotten tougher with injuries. That doesn't mean we can't get better from it."
Worth noting, the 49ers brought in three new players Monday. WR Louis Murphy, who was with the team in August, was signed Monday along with TE Logan Paulsen, who's been released twice by San Francisco this season.
Shanahan assured more are on the way.
But no quarterbacks.
That's correct. If, as the Sports Xchange characterized him, "backup-turned-tackling dummy" C.J. Beathard were to get hurt Sunday against the Giants, Shanahan disclosed Monday that Jimmy Garoppolo would be thrust into action.
Ready or not.
"Who else would you suggest?" Shanahan responded when pressed on the issue.
Playing Garoppolo with limited knowledge of the playbook, without three of the team's top four receivers, and with a banged-up offensive line that does not seem like the best way to make a favorable impression on a guy who can become a free agent at season's end.
Shanahan seemed more concerned about beating the Giants.
"We feel Jimmy is about where they would be, especially with them not being with us the last few months," Shanahan said in comparing Garoppolo with Matt Barkley, who was cut on the eve of the regular season. "You'd have to cut other players to do that. And we don't have that leeway right now just to cut a lot of other guys.
"Everybody's playing a role on our team right now with the injuries we have. If you can't IR guys, you don't lose that spot. So, we really don't have the room for that right now."
Shanahan assured he'd love to see Beathard under less duress against the Giants than he was when sacked five times and hurried more often than not on his 51 pass attempts against the Cardinals.
He noted the 51/17 throw/run ratio was not by design.
"If you would have told me after the game that we were in the 50s compared to 17s, I would say how much did we get killed by? That's definitely not the goal going in," he said. "We want to be balanced, especially in a situation that we were in.
"I don't just look at the number in the end and decide off that. I go watch how it all happens, how a game plays out. I know it was extremely unusual that we had 28 passes called and four two-minute drives. Never been a part of that before. I know we threw every single time in the fourth quarter. So I think that gets very skewed."
Shanahan has a solution to the problem.
No, not Garoppolo.
Rather, take a lead.
"I had someone tell me, and I don't know if it's true or not, but they said we've only had the ball for six plays this year while having the lead," Shanahan reported. "That's hard for me to believe it, but it's the situation that we've been in. Not many people have. You're trying to win games, and usually when you do, you're trying to throw to get back into it.
"But I definitely want to be more balanced. I want us to win a game however we can do that. The way we've been doing it hasn't been working. Hopefully, we can find a game that we can get out to some early leads and protect that a little bit more. ..."
As ESPN.com's Nick Wagoner noted, the Niners' ninth straight loss to open the season actually puts them a tick ahead of the Cleveland Browns in the race for the No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 NFL draft. That's because the Browns didn't play Sunday. At this point, the losses are starting to run together and don't mean much else in the grand scheme of things.
Form a fantasy perspective, there wasn't much reason to start any 49ers in this game with the exception of running back Carlos Hyde. And though Hyde found little room to run, he was effective in the passing game. He finished with 41 yards on 12 carries and nine catches for 84 yards.
The last 49ers back to have nine catches in a game was RB Frank Gore against the Kansas City Chiefs in 2010.
The worst news for Hyde owners? Beathard stole a touchdown from the 1 and Hyde was ejected late in the game for fighting.
Beyond that, with Garcon out, Aldrick Robinson and Marquise Goodwin were each targeted eight times but they finished with two catches each.
Wideout Kendrick Bourne recorded the first two pass receptions of his career in Sunday's loss. Bourne finished with 39 yards in receptions, including a 25-yarder.
Garrett Celek will start at tight end in the Week 10 game against the New York Giants, Shanahan announced Monday. Celek played 55 of the 49ers' 74 offensive snaps in Sunday's loss. He caught one pass for 13 yards.
QBs: Jimmy Garoppolo, C.J. Beathard
RBs: Jerick McKinnon, Matt Breida, Raheem Mostert, Kyle Juszczyk
WRs: Marquise Goodwin, Aldrick Robinson, Trent Taylor, Kendrick Bourne, Victor Bolden
TEs: George Kittle, Garrett Celek
Seattle SeahawksCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 7 November 2017
As the Associated Press suggested, maybe it's best the Seattle Seahawks don't have time to dwell on what went wrong.
By the time Monday afternoon rolled around, the Seahawks were trying to put the mistakes of Sunday's 17-14 loss to Washington behind them, knowing they had barely 72 hours to prepare for Thursday's divisional game at Arizona.
But it was hard to ignore such a sloppy performance by the Seahawks that featured 16 penalties, two turnovers, three missed field goals and Washington scoring with less than a minute remaining to walk out of Seattle with an unlikely victory.
"We've got some real serious stuff we've got to get better at," Seattle coach Pete Carroll said.
Carroll was not in the best of moods Monday, with the continued penalty problems at the top of the list. But he also was irritated by Blair Walsh's three missed field goals, quarterback Russell Wilson sometimes escaping the pocket too early, and his defense surrendering two big plays on Washington's final drive.
The Seahawks have shown flaws throughout the first half of the season, but Sunday was the first time so many of them had surfaced in the same game.
"We have so much to improve and I am surprised somewhat that we're not further along in these areas that I'm talking about right now," Carroll said. "These are things that we really can control and we have a chance to be good."
The 16 penalties were the second-most in franchise history and the most by any team in the NFL this season. Carroll was particularly miffed that 10 of the penalties came against the offense and all of them left Seattle facing long-yardage situations. All five offensive linemen were flagged at least once.
Seattle has never been the cleanest team with penalties, but the Seahawks already have games of 16 and 15 penalties this season, the most in Carroll's tenure.
"It's a group thing when you have a bunch like this, but it comes down to individual choices and making good decisions and doing things right," Carroll said. "So we're going to jump all over it with another emphasis."
There was also concern about Walsh's confidence moving forward after an awful kicking game. Walsh missed wide left from 39, 44 and 49 yards all in the first half and left Seattle facing a 7-2 deficit at halftime.
Walsh had been 12 of 13 on the season going into Sunday's game, and Carroll said the Seahawks would not be making a change.
"He's been great. He's been kicking like crazy and we are expecting him to get right back to that," Carroll said.
Then there was the final drive when Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins hit two long passes that led to the winning touchdown. Seattle remained aggressive with its defensive calls after being criticized in the past for playing too soft in late-game situations.
This time, the aggressiveness got the better of them. Rather than playing zone, the Seahawks had their cornerbacks in the face of the wide receivers at the line of scrimmage. So when Brian Quick and Josh Doctson got separation from Justin Coleman and Shaquill Griffin there was no other defenders there to help. Quick's 31-yard catch was the precursor to Doctson's 38-yard reception to the 1-yard line -- beating Griffin -- that set up Rob Kelley's winning TD run with 59 seconds left.
"I feel like the mistake that I made, I almost got relaxed on that play. Looking for (the ball), I couldn't find it and that's the mistake that I made," Griffin said. "That's something I've got to move on from too. He made a hell of a catch. That was a hell of a throw and it sucks to see a ball game go away like that. ..."
The Seahawks play the Arizona Cardinals in Glendale, Arizona, Thursday night.
As ESPN.com's Brady Henderson, it's a favorable matchup for Seattle with Arizona playing without quarterback Carson Palmer, but the short turnaround could make it harder for free safety Earl Thomas (hamstring) and defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson (oblique) to play. They both missed Sunday's game after being listed as questionable.
In addition, Eddie Lacy left the game in the first half and didn't return after injuring his groin. He was getting a chance to take over as Seattle's lead back after sharing caries with Thomas Rawls since rookie starter Chris Carson went down in Week 4.
Lacy had 20 yards on six carries before the injury. Rawls finished with 39 yards on nine carries. Seattle's running game remains a sore spot, but expect Rawls to get the start Thursday night.
Russell Wilson is well on his way to a third consecutive 4,000-yard passing season. With his mobility back at full speed, Wilson has looked like his younger self and has been able to be effective inside the pocket and as a scrambler.
He's on pace to match a career-high in touchdowns, but is also on pace to set a new career high in interceptions. Pass blocking has been significantly better this season than in years past.
As NFL.com's Matt Harmon notes, Doug Baldwin has target totals of 12, 10 and 12 over the last three weeks. He had a big game against the Giants with 92 yards and a touchdown and went for 108 and a touchdown against Washington today.
However, sandwiched between them is a six-catch for 54 yards outing against the Texans in Seattle.
According to Harmon, "That's the encapsulation of the Baldwin weekly experience in fantasy football. The floor games aren't nightmares but he'll miss his ceiling on a routine basis."
In addition, after delivering big games last week, Paul Richardson and Tyler Lockett went quiet against Washington, combining for just 51 yards on five catches. According to Harmon, Richardson went out for more plays (64 to 51) but Lockett drew more targets (eight to three).
Lockett and Wilson just missed on a few big play chances. Both of these talented players are appealing, but as Harmon summed up, they're "not 100 percent predictable plays on a weekly basis."
Running back C.J. Prosise is expected to play Thursday night against the Cardinals after missing all but two snaps of the last five games with a high-ankle sprain. He practiced fully this week. Lockett, who hurt his shoulder landing hard while trying to catch a pass in the first quarter, also practiced fully. Both were removed from the team's final injury report. Lacy was officially ruled out.
Richardson (groin) is listed as questionable; I'll have more on his status when Late-Breaking Updates crank up early Thursday. ...
FB Tre Madden has a "serious injury" to his calf that knocked him out of Sunday's game and the team placed him on IR on Tuesday.
QBs: Russell Wilson, Austin Davis
RBs: J.D. McKissic, Mike Davis, Eddie Lacy, Tre Madden
WRs: Doug Baldwin, Tyler Lockett, Jaron Brown, Tanner McEvoy, Amara Darboh
TEs: Ed Dickson, Nick Vannett
Tampa Bay BuccaneersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 7 November 2017
A five-game losing streak isn't the only source of frustration for the reeling Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
As Associated Press sports writer Fred Goodall, the team's woes intensified Monday, when quarterback Jameis Winston learned he will be shut down for at least two weeks in hopes his injured throwing shoulder improves. Star receiver Mike Evans was suspended one game by the NFL for his role in a sideline skirmish.
Winston's streak of 40 consecutive starts to begin his pro career will end Sunday, when Ryan Fitzpatrick replaces him against the New York Jets, Fitzpatrick's team the last two seasons.
Evans will miss this week's game, too, for violating league rules regarding unsportsmanlike conduct and unnecessary roughness during a 30-10 loss at New Orleans -- an incident the receiver escalated after Winston initiated a confrontation with Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore.
Evans appealed the suspension, but it was upheld on Tuesday.
"Totally unacceptable behavior, first by Jameis and then by Mike," Koetter said, reflecting on Evans running up from behind and knocking Lattimore to the ground after the Saints rookie pushed Winston in response to the quarterback coming off the sideline to confront Lattimore.
Winston was not in the game at the time because of his sore shoulder.
"Jameis cannot, under any circumstances come off the sideline when he's not even playing in the game," Koetter added. "Trash talking is trash talking. But to go out and tap another player -- whatever you want to call that, touch another player at all on the field -- that's inexcusable."
Koetter spoke about the incident during his weekly news conference, before the NFL announced Evans' suspension.
The receiver said after the game Sunday he was taking up for his quarterback, but acknowledged that he had let his emotions get the best of him.
"That's not having your teammate's back. That's just wrong," Koetter agreed.
"If I had known what I know now, Mike probably should have been ejected, and maybe Jameis should have been ejected," Koetter said.
The coach said he didn't see the incident as it was developing and that none of the game officials did, either.
When Koetter asked why a penalty was called on Evans, the coach said the official who threw the flag explained "they told us from upstairs that 13 started the whole thing."
"I talked to the entire team about that today, and that cannot happen," Koetter said. "That's totally unacceptable."
Winston sat out the second half against the Saints after being sacked late in the second quarter and landing on the shoulder he initially hurt at Arizona on Oct. 15.
"He's going to be out for the next couple of weeks," Koetter said, adding the Bucs also plan to activate third-string quarterback Ryan Griffin, who was activated off IR on Tuesday.
Winston, who's thrown for 1,920 yards, 10 touchdowns and six interceptions, has played through the injury, originally diagnosed as an AC joint sprain, the past three games.
Koetter said an MRI performed Monday showed "a lot of medical terms that I'm not an expert on, but that he needs to be off for a couple of weeks."
"Of course Jameis is a tremendous competitor, and he would try to play through anything," Koetter said.
Winston visited renowned surgeon Dr. James Andrews for an exam on Tuesday; I'll have more on that when Late-Breaking Updates commence early Thurday. ...
The Bucs, who haven't made the playoffs since 2007, have lost five straight to fall into last place in the NFC South. Koetter was asked to describe the mood of the team, which began the season expecting to contend for the division title.
"Frustrated, disappointed, confused," the coach said. "The mood you would expect from a team that had very high expectations and has lost five in a row."
Meanwhile, in addition to taking on his former team this week, Fitzpatrick will be tasked with trying to lead the Bucs to wins over Atlanta, Green Bay and Detroit in the following weeks -- depending on how long Winston is out.
DeSean Jackson, who wound up leading the Bucs Sunday with just two catches for 25 receiving yards -- the deep passes that made him one of the most dangerous receiving threats in the league have been missing all season -- will handle the No. 1 role this week with Evans out.
And though he's not happy with team's current state of affairs, D-Jax is up for the challenge.
"I'm not going to be a quitter," Jackson said. "I'm going to go out there and keep working hard, do everything in my ability [to be] a spark, anything I can with the opportunities I get."
He did conceded, however, "Sometimes those opportunities don't present themselves."
Adding to the overall woes (and fantasy disappointment), the Bucs cannot get their running game going.
Halfway through the season, they do not have a player who has rushed for 100 yards and the return of Doug Martin to the lineup has been inconsequential. All this despite the fact that the Bucs moved Ali Marpet to center and J.R. Sweezy came back from an injury that cost him the entire 2016 season.
As NFL.com's Matt Franciscovich noted, Peyton Barber led the backfield with 34 rushing yards on his 11 attempts against the Saints as Martin was benched after being completely ineffective. Martin gained just seven yards on eight carries and was basically benched in the second half.
QBs: Jameis Winston, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Ryan Griffin
RBs: Peyton Barber, Jacquizz Rodgers, Charles Sims
WRs: Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson, Adam Humphries, Chris Godwin, Bernard Reedy
TEs: Cameron Brate, O.J. Howard
Tennessee TitansCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 7 November 2017
Marcus Mariota finally threw his first touchdown pass inside the red zone this season, and the Titans scored on all three of their trips inside the opponent's 20.
For the Titans, that's progress even if they're not where they want to be just yet.
"We're close," head coach Mike Mularkey said.
The Titans (5-3) won their third straight game by beating the Baltimore Ravens 23-20 with the offense finally showing signs of looking like a unit that was the NFL's best at scoring touchdowns in the red zone last season. It helped that Mariota appears completely over the strained left hamstring that cost him six quarters and limited his mobility for two games.
Tennessee also got rookie wide receiver Corey Davis, the No. 5 pick overall in April, back on the field after missing five games. Davis played 39 snaps in his first game since Sept. 17 and caught only two of the five passes thrown at him for 28 yards. But the rookie from Western Michigan made an impressive toe-dragging catch on the sideline for 23 yards.
Mariota said having Davis back and starting was very important.
"When you have a guy that makes plays on the football like he does, it helps everybody out, gets everybody open," Mariota said. "He made a couple of great plays for us (Sunday). Again, when you are able to do that, when you are able to win one-on-one and find ways to make big plays, it'll help us out."
The Titans also scored their first touchdown in the first quarter since the season opener with Mariota finding wide receiver Rishard Matthews on a 16-yard TD pass. Derrick Henry scored on a 1-yard run, and the Titans drove 75 yards for what wound up as the winning TD late in the fourth quarter.
Mariota finished off the drive with a TD pass to veteran Eric Decker who slipped out left when the receiver noticed a couple of other Titans bottled up by the Ravens. Mariota said the Titans know they can score in the red zone but just had to execute.
"It's something to build off of but, you know, that's the expectation," Mariota said. "That's how we should be playing."
The Titans now have to prepare to host Cincinnati (3-5) with a couple of players still dealing with injuries.
Running back DeMarco Murray, who wasn't on the injury report leading up to the Baltimore game, hurt a knee that Mularkey said Monday will limit the Pro Bowler in practice this week.
Tight end Delanie Walker also will be limited as he recovers from a bone bruise in his ankle, though Walker played and still led the Titans with five catches for 71 yards.
Despite the various setbacks, the Titans still find themselves with the team's best record in years at the midpoint of their season. A win Sunday would give them six wins earlier than at any point since 2008 when Tennessee won its first 10 games.
"We are not where we want to be offensively, but we are making it happen. ..." Matthews said. "Our defense is doing a great job in getting the ball back for us and continuing to try to let us do what we do offensively. Special teams have been doing a great job as well. Offensively, we just got to pick it up. We will get there. ..."
For what it's worth, Mariota's completion percentage is still good at just over 63 percent, but he has only thrown six touchdown passes thus far. His receivers - save for the reliable Walker and Matthews - have not stepped up as consistently as the Titans had hoped and the play-calling has been pedestrian at times, leading to inconsistency in the passing game.
In addition, Tennessee still ranks 10th in the NFL in rushing, but seems to be trending downward, having struggled to move the ball on the ground against Cleveland and Baltimore in recent weeks. In addition to the current knee issue, Murray has battled a number of injuries, and Mariota's mobility has been limited at times with a hamstring issue that seems to finally be over.
Henry probably needs a chance to carry more of the load, and the offensive line has to show more consistency. In addition, there's some talk of including more designed runs for Mariota going forward.
And finally. ... Ryan Succop (21 of 23 field goals) has been about as automatic as can be and deserves a Pro-Bowl berth if he continues at his current pace.
QBs: Marcus Mariota, Blaine Gabbert
RBs: Dion Lewis, Derrick Henry, David Fluellen
WRs: Rishard Matthews, Eric Decker, Taywan Taylor, Eric Weems, Michael Campanaro, Corey Davis
TEs: Delanie Walker, Luke Stocker, Jonnu Smith, Phillip Supernaw
Washington RedskinsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 7 November 2017
According to Associated Press sports writer Stephen Whyno, as Robert Kelley began feeling some pain in his sprained right ankle, he thought about all the injuries his teammates were playing through.
"Everyone hurts," Kelley said. "So what are you going to do, keep playing or keep whining?"
Kelley and the Redskins have played through plenty of pain in recent weeks, so banged up that they didn't have 46 healthy players to make active at Seattle. But after surviving being without four-fifths of their starting offensive line in an emotional 17-14 victory against the Seahawks, their top priority is returning to as close to full health as possible with the NFC North-leading Minnesota Vikings coming to town on Sunday.
Left tackle Trent Williams continues to try to tolerate pain in his right knee, left guard Shawn Lauvao is improving with his stinger, center Spencer Long will test his sprained knee in individual drills this week and Brandon Scherff will increase his workload as he works back from a left knee injury.
Considering a line of T.J. Clemmings, Arie Kouandjio, Chase Roullier, Tyler Catalina and Morgan Moses played in the Seahawks game, the Redskins are feeling pretty good about their potential at 4-4.
"It shows that we can play in this league and we are just as good as anybody else," Kelley said. "Just imagine what we can do when those guys get healthy."
Head coach Jay Gruden believes his team "showed flashes" early in the season. Washington ran all over the now 6-2 Los Angeles Rams on the road in Week 2 and followed that up by crushing the Oakland Raiders at home.
Then the injuries piled up, from Kelley's ankle and the problems along the offensive line to cornerback Josh Norman's broken rib, rookie defensive lineman Jonathan Allen's Lisfranc sprain in his left foot, kicker Dustin Hopkins' hip strain and tight end Jordan Reed's and wide receiver Jamison Crowder's hamstring strains. Wide receiver Brian Quick is in the NFL's concussion protocol.
Gruden said Reed and Crowder are improving (both were working on a limited basis in Wednesday's practice) and tight end Vernon Davis should be OK after bruising a hand.
But getting back to normal along the offensive line should do wonders.
"We're hoping that some of them come back," Gruden said on Monday. "It would be great to get at least one back, maybe two, maybe three would be outstanding. And I know when they are all back and healthy, we're a little bit better offense than we are without them, that's for sure."
The Redskins rushed for a total of 100 yards over the past two weeks behind a patchwork offensive line, and quarterback Kirk Cousins had no choice but to move around the pocket and get rid of the ball quickly. He did so in such a way that he engineered a game-winning, four-play, 70-yard drive without two of his most reliable passing targets.
If Reed and Crowder can play against Minnesota, it will help, but Gruden's first priority is getting back to what worked well on the ground earlier in the season.
Third down back Chris Thompson has been Washington's best offensive player, though Gruden knows he has to mix in rookie Samaje Perine with some carries.
"We need to have more success running the ball," Gruden said. "Hopefully the touches will come later on down the season when the weather gets worse and worse and worse and we'll get some of our guys back offensively."
In addition, Josh Doctson continues to progress.
Doctson finished with three catches for 59 yards; not spectacular numbers, but that's not where he's at in his career. The Redskins think of him almost like a rookie, considering he not only missed 14 games last season, but almost an entire year of practice time because of his Achilles issues. There's plenty to learn.
But as ESPN.com's John Keim notes, what they do know is that Doctson can do damage deep. He scored on a 52-yard catch earlier this season in which he reached over a defender, grabbed the ball and ran into the end zone. Give him a chance; he can make plays, they told Cousins. Last week, Doctson made a similar dive and couldn't secure the ball in a loss to Dallas.
This time, he could.
While his catch against the Seahawks wasn't a touchdown, it put Washington on the 1-yard line and set up a short touchdown for Kelley that gave his team a 17-14 lead with about a minute remaining.
Teammates have raved for a while about the sort of catches he makes in practice. That's why they knew it was just a matter of time.
In the loss to Kansas City, Cousins showed that he trusted Doctson enough to target him on a crucial third down in the end zone. Cousins went back to him at another clutch time. Cousins said that when they got to the line and saw that Seattle was in man coverage on the outside, he audibled to the deep ball. That's what Gruden told him to do against that look. For much of the game, the Redskins couldn't give Cousins enough time to make such a throw; they did on this play.
"I gave him a hand signal and he took off," Cousins said. "I put it out there pretty far, and he went and got it and showed why he has a lot of potential."
Trust is built one big catch at a time.
"I hope," Cousins said, "it's a sign of things to come."
There are other things coming, however; like two more tough games: NFC North leader Minnesota (6-2) at home and then NFC South leader New Orleans (6-2) on the road. ...
Other notes of interest. ... The Redskins haven't been able to get anything going on the ground. Kelley has battled nagging injuries, they don't want to overuse Thompson and Perine isn't ready to contribute yet and has struggled with fumbles.
Washington ranks 22nd in rushing yards per game (98.7). The offensive line injuries haven't helped the run blocking.
Thompson helps though.
The Redskins don't have anyone who can do what he does; they have only two other running backs, and neither offers comparable playmaking ability. Plus, Thompson is terrific in protection. He has rushed for a team-best 253 yards and has 453 yards receiving. The Redskins have shown they can win when he doesn't have huge games, but as Keim contends, they'd be in major trouble if he got hurt.
For the record, Doctson has target totals of five, three and five since taking over the X-receiver job in place of Terrelle Pryor. But as NFL.com's Matt Harmon notes, Washington's offense remains far too spread-out to trust any of these wideouts, even though Doctson is legitimately ascending as a player and routinely flashes big plays every week.
Ryan Grant led the way among the wide receivers, going out for 93 percent of the plays. ...
Stay tuned in coming days for more on Crowder, Reed and the rest of the team's injured via Late-Breaking Update.
QBs: Alex Smith, Colt McCoy, Kevin Hogan
RBs: Samaje Perine, Kapri Bibbs
WRs: Jamison Crowder, Josh Doctson, Paul Richardson, Brian Quick
TEs: Vernon Davis, Jeremy Sprinkle