Ex-Panthers WR Carruth released from prison

Ex-Panthers WR Carruth released from prison

Former Carolina Panthers wide receiver Rae Carruth was released from prison Monday morning.

Carruth, 44, left the Sampson Correctional Institution in Clinton, N.C., at 8 a.m. ET without speaking to reporters gathered near the exit.

Carruth begins a nine-month post-release program as part of his sentence for plotting the Nov. 16, 1999, shooting of his pregnant girlfriend, Cherica Adams, who died one month later.

Carruth’s son, Chancellor Adams, survived in Adams’ womb but the loss of oxygen and blood caused brain damage. Saundra Adams, Cherica’s mother, has raised her grandson since his birth.

During the release program, Carruth is not permitted to leave the state without permission.

The 1997 first-round pick was an active NFL player when charges were brought in the Adams case.

–Field Level Media

Henry’s record night sparks Titans’ rout of Jags

Henry's record night sparks Titans' rout of Jags

Henry’s record night sparks Titans’ rout of Jags

Derrick Henry tied an NFL record with a 99-yard touchdown run and rushed for a franchise-record 238 yards on 17 carries Thursday night as the Tennessee Titans kept their playoff hopes alive by pasting the Jacksonville Jaguars 30-9 in Nashville, Tenn.

Henry also matched a franchise record with four rushing touchdowns.

Tennessee (7-6) won its second game in a row and moved within a half-game of the Baltimore Ravens for the second AFC wild-card spot. Jacksonville (4-9) lost for the eighth time in nine games and clinched its seventh losing season in eight years.

Henry’s 99-yard jaunt, which tied the mark set by Dallas’ Tony Dorsett at Minnesota in January 1983, came on the first play after Leonard Fournette was stopped for no gain by Rashaan Evans on fourth-and-goal to deny the Jaguars a second-quarter lead.

Henry burst free off left tackle and broke three tackles on his way to the record book, stiff-arming A.J. Bouye to the ground around the Tennessee 25. Myles Jack tried and failed to bring Henry down at the Jacksonville 20 as the crowd roared. The play gave Tennessee a 13-2 lead with 7:07 left.

Ryan Succop’s 33-yard field goal with 10 seconds left in the half made it 16-2 at the break. Henry ended the game’s competitive phase in the third quarter with touchdown runs of 16 and 54 yards less than two minutes apart, upping the margin to 30-2 at the 5:30 mark.

Henry had a chance for a fifth touchdown, but his third-down run from the Jaguars 2-yard line was stopped for a 1-yard loss. Multiple Jacksonville defenders celebrated the play, about the only thing they had to enjoy.

Jaguars quarterback Cody Kessler completed 25 of 43 passes for 240 yards and a 7-yard scoring strike to Dede Westbrook with 1:49 left in the third quarter. Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota hit 18 of 24 attempts for 162 yards with an interception.

Jacksonville’s other points came on a safety with 59 seconds left in the first quarter when punt returner Cameron Batson muffed the ball and was tackled in the end zone.

–Field Level Media

Read More 283 Words

Titans RB Henry ties Dorsett with 99-yard rushing TD

Titans RB Henry ties Dorsett with 99-yard rushing TD

Tennessee Titans running

Titans RB Henry ties Dorsett with 99-yard rushing TD

Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry took a handoff behind his team’s 1-yard line and sprinted directly into the record books.

Henry tied Tony Dorsett’s NFL record with a 99-yard rushing touchdown in the first half of Thursday night’s game between the Titans and Jacksonville Jaguars. Dorsett had held sole possession of the record since Jan. 3, 1983, when he scored on a 99-yard run for the Dallas Cowboys against the Minnesota Vikings.

A series of stiff arms helped Henry make history. He took the handoff in the end zone, stepped over traffic at the line of scrimmage and cut left.

Jaguars cornerback A.J. Bouye was the first defender with a clear shot at a tackle. Henry extended his right arm and knocked Bouye off balance.

Linebacker Leon Jacobs was next. He attempted to chase down Henry from behind, only to fall over as the running back pushed him aside with his right arm.

Myles Jack had the final opportunity to prevent the historic touchdown, but Henry quickly shed the linebacker on his way to the end zone.

Before the big play, Henry’s longest run of the season was 16 yards. His previous career long was 75.

–Field Level Media

Read More 146 Words

Take 5: Top offenses and defenses clash in Week 14

Take 5: Top offenses and defenses clash in Week 14

Highlighting Week

Take 5: Top offenses and defenses clash in Week 14

Highlighting Week 14’s excellent slate of matchups are the premier offense-defense battles in Chicago and Kansas City.

Offenses owned these clashes (Rams-Vikings, Jaguars-Chiefs, Saints-Ravens) early this season, but the pendulum swung back in Week 13 (Saints-Cowboys, Colts-Jaguars).

Perhaps the Bears can keep that trend going in frigid Chicago on Sunday night.

1. A formula to slow the Rams?

There’s no “blueprint” to stop Sean McVay’s offense, but one particular approach has given it trouble. L.A.’s disjointed performance in Detroit came against a Lions defense leaning heavily on Cover-4 (also known as “quarters”), which Denver also employed when holding the Rams to a season-low 23 points.

With four deep defenders, Cover-4 creates multiple double teams against two- and three-man route concepts — like many of McVay’s play-action designs — by bracketing vertical routes with a cornerback and a safety. The approach also fits Los Angeles’ condensed formations, keeping defenders from getting picked by intertwined releases from stacks and bunches.

Vic Fangio’s zone-heavy scheme features plenty of Cover-4, often from disguised looks that muddy the quarterback’s read. Safeties Eddie Jackson and Adrian Amos have thrived in these designs, with Jackson instinctively reading multiple routes and Amos flying downhill to hammer crossers or fill run lanes.

Jared Goff hasn’t been poor, but his early-season precision — both with ball placement and field reading — has slipped some. (Even against the Chiefs, he missed several open targets low.) That could be exacerbated Sunday by Khalil Mack and Akiem Hicks, who should get push in Goff’s face even if they don’t reach him often.

2. Chiefs offense losing its balance?

Kansas City still scored 40 points Sunday, but its run game clearly missed Kareem Hunt. Patrick Mahomes and Tyreek Hill accounted for 89 yards on 11 carries, but Spencer Ware and Damien Williams totaled 85 on 19 totes (4.5 average), with more than half (47 yards) on three carries.

Ware especially struggled (3.4 average) despite facing the Raiders’ 28th-ranked run defense (5.0 average) and a slew of light boxes. With Oakland keeping two safeties deep, Andy Reid’s spread formations regularly created 5-on-5 or 6-on-6 blocking (even 6-on-5 on one occasion). But Ware lacked the one-step, upfield cuts to explode through seams, often continuing laterally past gaping holes up the middle.

The drop-off from Hunt to Ware won’t matter often, given the explosive passing game, but it might when trying to salt away a playoff lead, or when facing better defenses.

This week, Baltimore’s top-ranked unit can key almost entirely on Mahomes and the passing game, looking to flummox him with myriad zone blitzes. Those tactics normally give free releases to slot targets — a dangerous move against Hill and Travis Kelce — but the Ravens could add wrinkles, especially if they don’t fear the run game.

Rather than having Terrell Suggs set the edge, Baltimore could walk him out over Kelce (wide or in the slot) to slam the tight end at the snap. The Ravens could even use this “bullseye” tactic against Hill, disrupting his momentum however possible to keep him from threatening downfield so quickly.

Mahomes won’t be confused like a typical first-year starter, but he could struggle some if the Chiefs get one-dimensional and his receivers can’t get off the line cleanly.

3. Can Philly’s front handle Dallas’ D?

Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith are shining in a scheme that unleashes their speed. That’s certainly true in coverage, with Rod Marinelli’s bevy of zones, but it’s also clear against the run.

A D-line guru, Marinelli has long favored an aggressive approach with slants and stunts, and the Cowboys have the penetrators to run them. Rather than passively holding gaps, Dallas calls slants on run downs, forcing offensive lines to react quickly and in unison. The unpredictability can create chaos and prevent O-lines from executing double teams as planned.

When double teams go awry, Vander Esch and Smith remain unblocked, allowing them to sift through traffic to the ball carrier. O-linemen that do get to the second level have had their paths altered, offering more favorable angles to slip blocks, at which Vander Esch is particularly adept.

Underwhelming most of the year, Philly’s front five got rolling Monday night, taking it to a stout Washington front-seven (4.6 yards per carry, excluding kneeldowns), but Dallas is a different challenge.

Perhaps the Eagles could combat the Cowboys’ aggression by dusting off some of offensive line coach and run-game coordinator Jeff Stoutland’s more exotic designs. Stoutland broke out several uncommon concepts in Dallas last year, many featuring split-flow action to move linebackers one way while attacking another.

4. Colts-Texans sequel nothing like the original

It feels like 10 months, not 10 weeks, since Houston’s 37-34 overtime victory in Indianapolis, which started an eight-game win streak.

After averaging 38.4 attempts through five weeks, Deshaun Watson has averaged 24.6 since. The Texans have instead leaned heavily on the run, using the O-line’s athleticism in outside zone and power schemes with pulling tackles (rather than guards). Lamar Miller and Alfred Blue aren’t dynamic creators, but both are disciplined hitting the designed hole, which has been there of late.

Meanwhile, the Colts’ O-line looks brand new. In Week 4, J.J. Watt feasted (two strip-sacks) on Le’Raven Clark and Denzelle Good. Anthony Castonzo’s return sent Clark back to the bench, and rookie Braden Smith has shored up right tackle (Good was released Saturday). Mark Glowinski has thrived replacing injured right guard Matt Slauson.

With the protection stabilized, Frank Reich’s offense has become far more open and aggressive, which worked brilliantly until it hit the Jaguars’ brick wall last week. Jacksonville’s front was dominant, and Houston could create similar problems with center Ryan Kelly (knee) again looking iffy.

While not a pure edge-bender, Jadeveon Clowney is a terror on the interior, where Houston matches him on guards and centers from a stand-up rover position, often with stunts and twists. Smith, of course, must counter Watt, who sees fewer double teams thanks to the Texans’ five-across fronts.

5. Vikings could put onus back on Russell Wilson

Seattle’s run-heavy approach has rendered Wilson more of a complementary piece. That’s not necessarily a bad thing — a tremendous downfield thrower, he has maximized Brian Schottenheimer’s play-action designs — but we’ve seen much less of the superhero-like playmaker.

That version of Wilson made a cameo two weeks ago against the Panthers, who shut down a Seahawks run game nobody else has stopped (2.7 yards per carry, first time under 4.2 since Week 3). Wilson had to carry the load and came through brilliantly with two late drives in the fourth quarter.

A similar script could play out Monday against Minnesota and its stout run defense (3.7 yards per carry, T-4th). Linval Joseph is a block of granite with tap dancers’ feet, and Sheldon Richardson has quietly had another excellent season. Everson Griffen and Danielle Hunter set wicked edges, and the second level is filled with speed.

When Wilson does throw, he’s trusted his protection more lately, extending plays from within the pocket rather than via his trademark escapes. That could lead to big plays downfield to Tyler Lockett and David Moore.

–David DeChant, Field Level Media

Read More 1117 Words

Brady, Pats head to site of struggles at Dolphins

Brady, Pats head to site of struggles at Dolphins

Tom Brady

Brady, Pats head to site of struggles at Dolphins

Tom Brady is 7-9 when playing on the road against the Miami Dolphins.

Let that statistic sink in: Brady, the 13-time Pro Bowl quarterback who has led the New England Patriots to five Super Bowl titles, winning MVP honors in four of those ultimate games, has lost more than he has won at the Dolphins.

The Patriots have no trouble winning at home against the Dolphins, including 38-7 earlier this season. But, whether it’s the humid weather or the distractions of South Beach, the Patriots have lost four of their past five games at Hard Rock Stadium.

“It’s a big challenge, winning down there,” Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels told The Boston Herald. “They play extremely well at home. We haven’t played well down there.”

Miami won 27-20 last year at home against the Patriots. Dolphins cornerback Xavien Howard intercepted Brady twice, and the Patriots went 0-for-11 on third down.

On Sunday, the Patriots (9-3) can clinch their NFL-record 10th straight division title with a tie or a win. Miami (6-6) is still alive in the battle for a playoff berth, although the Dolphins are a bit of a long shot.

New England is a seven-point favorite on Sunday, and Miami’s monumental challenge of trying to knock off the Patriots just got significantly more difficult.

Howard, a Pro Bowl candidate who leads the NFL with seven interceptions — including four in the past two weeks — is likely to miss the Patriots game due to injury. He hurt his knee during his second interception in last week’s Dolphins win over the Buffalo Bills. But Howard, perhaps due to adrenaline, missed just one play and finished the game.

On Wednesday, he did not practice.

“(Howard) is one of our best players if not our best player on defense,” Dolphins coach Adam Gase said. “If he can’t go, we have to make some adjustments.”

Howard, the reigning AFC Defensive Player of the Week, is expected to return this season, Gase said.

Brady (knee) and tight end Rob Gronkowski (ankle, back) were limited in practice on Wednesday, but both Patriots stars are expected to play on Sunday.

Even so, the Patriots are wary of the Dolphins defense, which ranks second in the NFL with 19 interceptions.

“There’s a lot to deal with,” McDaniels said. “They have an aggressive, penetrating front, and they mix their calls and coverages quite a bit.”

Offensively, the Dolphins got quarterback Ryan Tannehill back from the injury list in last week’s win over the Buffalo Bills. He had missed five games due to an injured throwing shoulder.

The Dolphins, who are 5-1 at home this season, have faced numerous injuries, especially at wide receiver, where they have lost two of their biggest playmakers: Albert Wilson and Jakeem Grant.

But wide receiver Danny Amendola, who missed last week’s game due to a knee injury, is expected to play against his former team, the Patriots. Amendola, who has played 11 games this season, leads the Dolphins in catches (48) and yards (469).

“I think,” Gase said, “he wants to play in this game as badly as anyone.”

–Field Level Media

Read More 464 Words

Shanahan recalls childhood memories as 49ers brace for Broncos

Shanahan recalls childhood memories as 49ers brace for Broncos

Shanahan recalls childhood memories as 49ers brace for Broncos

Kyle Shanahan gets an opportunity to coach against his dad’s old team Sunday when the San Francisco 49ers host the Denver Broncos in Santa Clara, Calif.

Mike Shanahan served as the Broncos’ wide receivers coach, offensive coordinator and head coach over three stints from 1984-98, with young son Kyle by his side for just about everything, including Super Bowl wins over Green Bay and Atlanta.

“That was back when they didn’t have wireless cords (for their headsets),” Kyle said when recalling the win over the Packers at the end of the 1997 season. “I was always the cord boy, holding my dad’s cords, which got made fun of a lot for it, but it was neat to be up front and personal with everything.

“The last guy to hold cords for a coach in the Super Bowl was me, if you want a good trivia question. After that Green Bay Super Bowl, they went wireless the next year. I think they only won one more because they didn’t have as good of a cord-holder, is what I always tell my dad.”

Shanahan won’t be back in the Super Bowl this season, with the 49ers (2-10) having already been eliminated from playoff contention.

The Broncos (6-6), meanwhile, have surged within one game of a playoff spot in the AFC on the strength of three-game winning streak fueled by running back Phillip Lindsay.

The rookie has rushed for 346 yards and five touchdowns in the three wins, putting the Broncos in a position to take advantage of a weak schedule (they play Cleveland and Oakland the next two weeks) in their pursuit of a postseason bid.

The spotlight will shine even brighter on Lindsay this week with news that wideout Emmanuel Sanders ruptured his Achilles in practice this week and will be lost for the season.

“It’s tough. You don’t really replace guys (like Sanders),” Broncos quarterback Case Keenum assured reporters Wednesday. “Emmanuel is one of the best guys I’ve ever worked with.”

Keenum will be matched up at quarterback with Nick Mullens, who began the season on the 49ers’ practice squad. In four starts following injuries to Jimmy Garoppolo and C.J. Beathard, the undrafted rookie out of Southern Mississippi has led a win over Oakland and threw for 414 yards — the most for a 49er in 14 years — last week in a loss to Seattle.

The 49ers likewise suffered a key injury when their top running back this season, Matt Breida, aggravated a sprained ankle in Seattle. He has been ruled out this week, allowing another former practice-squad guy, Jeff Wilson Jr., to get his chance.

–Field Level Media

Read More 386 Words

Seahawks, Vikings look to improve playoff chances

Seahawks, Vikings look to improve playoff chances

As the NFL season reaches its

Seahawks, Vikings look to improve playoff chances

As the NFL season reaches its final quarter, the Seattle Seahawks and Minnesota Vikings are in position to earn NFC wild-card playoff berths.

That might not be the case after Monday night’s meeting between the teams in Seattle.

The Seahawks (7-5) have won three straight games to move a half-game ahead of the Vikings (6-5-1) for the final two playoff spots. But Carolina, Philadelphia and Washington are all 6-6, making for a tight race the rest of the way.

“These are must-win games for us. Every week, we approach it like that,” Seahawks left tackle Duane Brown said after Sunday’s 43-16 victory against San Francisco. “We approach every week like a playoff game and that’s the kind of intensity guys came out with from kickoff on.”

The Vikings are coming off a 24-10 loss at New England.

“Right now, we’re kind of an up-and-down-team a little bit,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said, “and that’s the thing that frustrates me the most. We need to develop more consistency.”

The Vikings have been especially inconsistent on offense, totalling fewer than 300 yards in three of their past four games.

Under first-year offensive coordinator John DeFilippo, they have the fourth-fewest rushing attempts and the third-most passing attempts in the league, causing Zimmer to publicly express concern about the play-calling.

Dalvin Cook had a season-high 84 yards rushing against the Patriots on only nine carries. He added a career-high eight receptions.

“If I get five (touches), I get 10, two, whatever, I’m just trying to make a play to help my team win,” Cook said. “I wasn’t surprised by anything that happened in the game.”

The Vikings could find some success through the air, as Seattle has been allowing 315 yards passing over their past four games.

Minnesota’s Kirk Cousins leads the league with 350 completions, with wide receiver Adam Thielen tops in receptions (98) and second in yards (1,166).

The Seahawks have found a better balance on offense.

Seattle leads the NFL with 148.8 yards rushing per game and has grounded out 150-plus yards in seven of its past eight games.

Last week, Russell Wilson attempted just six passes in the first half but threw for three touchdowns. In the three-game winning streak, Wilson has eight touchdown passes and no interceptions, averaging about 250 yards passing.

“I love the way it’s fitting together for us,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said.

The Seahawks likely will be without guard D.J. Fluker, who strained his hamstring last weekend.

–Field Level Media

Read More 356 Words

NFL notebook: McCarthy addressed Packers players

NFL notebook: McCarthy addressed Packers players

Mike McCarthy was back

NFL notebook: McCarthy addressed Packers players

Mike McCarthy was back in front of the Green Bay Packers’ players on Wednesday. Three days after being fired, he was given the opportunity to address his now former players after making a request to do so.

“He wanted an opportunity to speak with the team. I was 100 percent, fully supportive … and he did a fantastic job talking to the team,” interim coach Joe Philbin told reporters on Thursday. “Not just about football and winning football games, but his passion. His passion for the game, his love for the players was clearly evident.”

McCarthy paid a visit to team headquarters on Tuesday to make the request, and chief executive officer Mark Murphy and others in upper management agreed to it. Murphy felt it was a good idea as McCarthy didn’t have a chance to address the team after being fired Sunday, hours after Green Bay’s 20-17 home loss to the Arizona Cardinals.

McCarthy, who turned 55 last month, was in his 13th season at the helm in Green Bay. He finished with a 125-77-2 regular-season record while going 10-8 in the postseason, leading the team to a Super Bowl XLV victory following the 2010 season.

–The Washington Redskins released a statement asking for privacy for Alex Smith and his family amid reports that the quarterback is dealing with an infection in his surgically repaired leg.

Smith underwent immediate surgery on Nov. 18 after incurring compound and spiral fractures to his tibia and fibula in the Redskins’ game against the Houston Texans. Multiple outlets report Smith has undergone subsequent surgeries to battle the infection.

–Reuben Foster’s ex-girlfriend and accuser detailed the alleged abuse against her, telling ABC that the former San Francisco 49ers linebacker slapped and pushed her during an incident that led to his arrest on suspicion of domestic violence.

Further, Elissa Ennis told ABC’s “Good Morning America” that she was “shocked” that Foster was picked up another team — the Washington Redskins — so soon after his release by the 49ers.

“When he got signed, I was like, ‘I can’t believe somebody picked him up,'” Ennis said on GMA, her first public comments about the incident. “I just couldn’t believe somebody picked him up in less than, how many hours? I was shocked.”

–The New York Giants placed safety Landon Collins on injured reserve, ending the two-time Pro Bowl selection’s season.

Collins sustained a partially torn labrum in his shoulder last Sunday in the Giants’ overtime win over the Chicago Bears and reportedly will undergo surgery.

The club signed defensive back Kenny Ladler from the practice squad to take Collins’ spot on the roster and added punter Brock Miller to the practice squad.

–The Kansas City Chiefs are signing Kelvin Benjamin two days after the wide receiver was waived by the Buffalo Bills, according to a report from ESPN.

ESPN reported earlier in the day that Benjamin was visiting the Chiefs, who are led at the position by Tyreek Hill and Sammy Watkins — though Watkins has missed three of the past four games with a foot injury.

Benjamin, a first-round pick in 2014, was released by the Bills, who acquired him from the Carolina Panthers last year in exchange for two draft picks. He struggled to fit in with Buffalo, hauling in 39 receptions for 571 yards and two touchdowns in 18 total games with the club. He has 23 catches for 354 yards and one score in 12 games this season.

–Another football league is in the works, and former NFL players such as Ricky Williams and Terrell Owens are behind it.

The Freedom Football League doesn’t have a launch season, but Williams said it would begin with 10 teams and would play games in spring and summer. Among the other former NFL players involved in the FFL are Simeon Rice, Jeff Garcia, Byron Chamberlain and Dexter Jackson.

The league’s first 10 teams will be the Birmingham Kings, Connecticut Underground, Florida Strong, Oakland Panthers, Ohio Players, Oklahoma City Power, Portland Progress, St. Louis Independence, San Diego Warriors and Texas Revolution.

–Field Level Media

Read More 612 Words

Report: Chiefs to sign WR Benjamin

Report: Chiefs to sign WR Benjamin

The Kansas

Report: Chiefs to sign WR Benjamin

The Kansas City Chiefs are signing Kelvin Benjamin, two days after the wide receiver was waived by the Buffalo Bills, according to a report from ESPN on Thursday.

ESPN had reported earlier in the day that Benjamin was visiting the Chiefs, who are led at the position by Tyreek Hill and Sammy Watkins — though Watkins has missed three of the last four games with a foot injury.

Kansas City leads the NFL in scoring (37 points per game) and yards per play (7.03).

Benjamin, a first-round pick in 2014, was released despite the steep cost to the Bills in acquiring him from the Carolina Panthers. The Bills gave up third- and seventh-round picks to land Benjamin from the Panthers at the trade deadline last season.

But the 6-foot-5, 245-pound Benjamin struggled to fit in with the Bills, making just 39 receptions for 571 yards and two touchdowns in 18 total games with the club. He has 23 catches for 354 yards and one score in 12 games this season.

Benjamin had 1,008 yards as a rookie in 2014 and another 941 in 2016 after a torn ACL cost him the 2015 season. But an apparent falling out with the Panthers led to his exit. In August, Benjamin told The Athletic’s Tim Graham he and Carolina were “a bad fit from the get-go,” and was critical of Panthers quarterback Cam Newton.

“If you would’ve put me with any other quarterback, let’s be real, you know what I’m saying?” Benjamin told Graham. “Any other accurate quarterback like (Aaron) Rodgers or Eli Manning or Big Ben (Roethlisberger) — anybody! — quarterbacks with knowledge, that know how to place a ball and give you a better chance to catch the ball. It just felt like I wasn’t in that position.”

–Field Level Media

Read More 232 Words

Steelers roll into Oakland minus RB Conner

Steelers roll into Oakland minus RB Conner

The Pittsburgh Steelers

Steelers roll into Oakland minus RB Conner

The Pittsburgh Steelers have lost two games in a row and are without a true starting running back Sunday for a road game against the Oakland Raiders.

James Conner, who had two touchdowns for Pittsburgh (7-4-1) last weekend and is approaching 1,000 yards rushing, has been filling in more than capably for the now-exiled Le’Veon Bell, but Conner will miss the game against Oakland.

He got hurt late last weekend in a loss to the Chargers, and what was originally called a contusion turned out to be “a little more significant than we initially thought,” Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin said. “I don’t know if you would describe it as a high ankle sprain. It is an ankle sprain, much more than a contusion as initially thought to be.”

The Steelers plot a committee approach with rookie Jaylen Samuels, lightly-used veteran Stevan Ridley and Trey Edmunds, who was promoted from the practice squad.

“Everybody’s got to do their part so we can carry this load,” said Ridley, who has rushed for just 56 yards. “I’ve just been working, getting ready.”

Samuels indicated he expects to start, although that hasn’t been confirmed.

“I’ve always got to prepare the same way because you never know what will happen,” said Samuels, who has a combined 85 yards and two touchdowns and has been most effective as a slot receiver. “I had to be 100 percent prepared like I was going to start. Keep doing the same thing I’ve been doing the last couple of weeks.”

It might help that Pittsburgh has been riding the passing game more lately.

“I’m not concerned about” the pass-run ratio, Tomlin said. “Sometimes, we’re going to be run-heavy. Sometimes we’re going to be pass-heavy. At the end of the day, we better be a group that is capable of attacking in both and provide that type of balance, if you want to call it balance.”

There is not much balanced this season about Oakland (2-10), which has been eliminated from playoff consideration, is tied with San Francisco for the NFL’s worst record and is a candidate for the first overall pick in the 2019 draft.

The Raiders might have more momentum if they had completed a comeback last week in a 33-30 loss against Kansas City.

“We don’t look ahead right now,” Oakland coach Jon Gruden said. “We’re looking at the Pittsburgh Steelers. That’s all we’re doing. I’m really proud of our team. We fought back (Sunday), made it 33-30 in the fourth quarter. We’re not looking ahead to nothing except the Pittsburgh Steelers, I can assure you.”

Three Raiders offensive linemen were limited in practice Wednesday: center Rodney Hudson (ankle/knee), guard Gabe Jackson (knee/ankle) and guard/tackle Kelechi Osemele (toe).

–Field Level Media

Read More 400 Words

Report: Chiefs host WR Benjamin

Report: Chiefs host WR Benjamin

Free agent wide

Report: Chiefs host WR Benjamin

Free agent wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin is visiting the Kansas City Chiefs on Thursday, two days the Buffalo Bills waived him.

ESPN first reported the interest from the Chiefs, who are led at the position by Tyreek Hill and Sammy Watkins — though Watkins has missed three of the last four games with a foot injury.

Kansas City leads the NFL in scoring (37 points per game) and yards per play (7.03).

Benjamin, a first-round pick in 2014, was released despite the steep cost to the Bills in acquiring him from the Carolina Panthers. The Bills gave up third- and seventh-round picks to land Benjamin from the Panthers at the trade deadline last season.

But the 6-foot-5, 245-pound Benjamin struggled to fit in with the Bills, making just 39 receptions for 571 yards and two touchdowns in 18 total games with the club. He has 23 catches for 354 yards and one score in 12 games this season.

Benjamin had 1,008 yards as a rookie in 2014 and another 941 in 2016 after a torn ACL cost him the 2015 season. But an apparent falling out with the Panthers led to his exit. In August, Benjamin told The Athletic’s Tim Graham he and Carolina were “a bad fit from the get-go,” and was critical of Panthers quarterback Cam Newton.

“If you would’ve put me with any other quarterback, let’s be real, you know what I’m saying?” Benjamin told Graham. “Any other accurate quarterback like (Aaron) Rodgers or Eli Manning or Big Ben (Roethlisberger) — anybody! — quarterbacks with knowledge, that know how to place a ball and give you a better chance to catch the ball. It just felt like I wasn’t in that position.”

–Field Level Media

Read More 219 Words

Giants place S Collins on IR with shoulder injury

Giants place S Collins on IR with shoulder injury

Giants place S Collins on IR with shoulder injury

The New York Giants on Thursday officially placed safety Landon Collins on injured reserve, ending the two-time Pro Bowl selection’s season.

Collins suffered a partially torn labrum in his shoulder last Sunday in the Giants’ overtime win over the Chicago Bears and will reportedly undergo surgery.

The club signed defensive back Kenny Ladler from the practice squad to take Collins’ spot on the roster. Ladler has six tackles in five games this season. The club also signed punter Brock Miller to the practice squad.

While denying Wednesday the team had made a decision on whether to shut Collins down, Giants head coach Pat Shurmur lauded Collins’ grit.

“In a sport where toughness is required, Landon Collins has a lot of it,” Shurmur told the media.

Collins, 24, is scheduled to become a free agent after this season. This is his second straight season cut short by a December trip to injured reserve. He missed the 2017 season finale after suffering a broken arm.

Collins has led the Giants in each of his first three seasons, and his 96 tackles this season are tops on the team.

–Field Level Media

Read More 135 Words

Foster’s ex-girlfriend details abuse during TV appearance

Foster’s ex-girlfriend details abuse during TV appearance

Foster’s ex-girlfriend details abuse during TV appearance

Reuben Foster’s ex-girlfriend and accuser detailed the alleged abuse against her, telling ABC on Thursday that the former San Francisco 49ers linebacker slapped and pushed her during an incident that led to his arrest for domestic violence.

Further, Elissa Ennis told ABC’s “Good Morning America” that she was “shocked” that Foster was picked up another team – the Washington Redskins – so soon after his release by the 49ers.

“When he got signed, I was like, ‘I can’t believe somebody picked him up,'” Ennis said on GMA, her first public comments about the incident. “I just couldn’t believe somebody picked him up in less than, how many hours? I was shocked.”

Foster, 24, is currently on the commissioner’s exempt list, meaning he cannot play while the league continues its investigation into the alleged incident.

Ennis alleges that Foster slapped and pushed her on Nov. 24, resulting in bruises, scratches and a concussion. The alleged incident took place in Tampa, Fla., ahead of the 49ers’ game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Ennis told GMA that Foster invited her to Florida to discuss their relationship, which the pair had put on hold. Ennis said Foster got violent with her when she threatened to tell another woman Foster was dating that he had paid for Ennis to visit him.

Foster was released the next day before being picked up by the Redskins on Nov. 27.

Ennis had previously accused Foster of violence against her in February but she recanted and those charges were dropped.

“Love will have you doing things that’s not in your best interests,” Ennis told GMA. “I did what I had to do for the person I love. I thought that he would change.”

She also accused members of the 49ers organization of bringing up that incident with police in Tampa in hopes of mitigating her latest charges.

“I have pictures of the 49ers coming up there trying to talk to the police, telling them I’m the same ex-girlfriend that [previously] lied,” Ennis told GMA.

–Field Level Media

Read More 286 Words

Redskins request privacy amid reports QB Smith is battling infection

Redskins request privacy amid reports QB Smith is battling infection

Redskins request privacy amid reports QB Smith is battling infection

The Washington Redskins on Thursday released a statement asking for privacy for Alex Smith and his family amid reports that the quarterback is dealing with an infection in his surgically repaired leg.

Smith underwent immediate surgery on Nov. 18 after incurring compound and spiral fractures to his tibia and fibula in the Redskins’ game against the Houston Texans.

Now, the quarterback is fighting post-surgery complications resulting from an infection, according to multiple reports, leading to Thursday’s statement from the team.

“On behalf of Alex Smith, we appreciate all the concerns and prayers over the injury he incurred on November 18th against the Houston Texans,” the Redskins’ statement read. “Although this is a serious injury, Alex and his family remain strong. We would ask that everyone please honor the Smith family’s request for privacy at this time.”

Multiple outlets report that Smith has undergone subsequent surgeries to battle the infection.

Redskins head coach Jay Gruden previously said that Smith did not suffer any ligament damage and faced a 6-to-8 month recovery. However, the latest reports indicate that the infection jeopardizes Smith’s chances of playing again.

–Field Level Media

Read More 136 Words

QB Sanchez tasked with resurrecting Redskins vs. Giants

QB Sanchez tasked with resurrecting Redskins vs. Giants

QB Sanchez tasked with resurrecting Redskins vs. Giants

The visiting New York Giants enter Sunday’s game against the Washington Redskins having won three of four games and fresh off an upset of the Chicago Bears.

The Redskins stagger in having lost three straight and starting their third quarterback in four weeks.

Yet it’s the Redskins who remain in the playoff conversation.

The Redskins (6-6) are tied for second in the NFC East with the Philadelphia Eagles, one game behind the Dallas Cowboys, and are part of a group chasing a wild card spot.

All they need to do by Sunday is turn recently unemployed Mark Sanchez back into a serviceable NFL starter and figure out why their defense is suddenly very porous.

With Colt McCoy sidelined, the 32-year-old Sanchez will make his first NFL start since 2015. In relief of McCoy against the Eagles, Sanchez was 13 of 21 for 100 yards and an interception.

“We understand that this division is really up for grabs, so these next few games, especially the divisional games, carry a lot of weight,” Sanchez said. “Our focus and our energy is about playing against the Giants. We moved on from that last one and now we’ll get a chance to get some reps and be ready to play.”

A full week of practice as the starter will give the recently signed Sanchez access to more of coach Jay Gruden’s playbook as he plays against a coach from his past.

“I’m familiar with what he is, and he came to us and heck he was playing in two AFC Championship games for the Jets, so he knows how to win and lead and he had that about [him] in Philadelphia,” Giants coach Pat Shurmur, Sanchez’s offensive coordinator in Philadelphia, said. “He’s good at throwing on the run. He executes well from the pocket and then we’ve got to look at what they do and just kind of surmise the plays they’ll run with him.”

The Redskins signed quarterback Josh Johnson to back up Sanchez. Johnson was a fifth-round pick of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2008, Gruden’s final year as an offensive assistant with the team. He threw his last NFL pass in the 2011 season.

Ranked near the top of the league early on, Washington’s defense has surrendered more than 400 yards in four of its past five games. The Redskins allowed opponents to rush for 100 yards twice in the first 700 games, but in each of the past five.

“The last four weeks we have to be very, very, very sound,” Gruden said of his run defense. “We have to be good physical, tackling football team and if the running back bounces it out to the unblocked corner, he’s got to make the tackle. And that didn’t happen a couple of times in that game [Monday] night.”

They’ll also need a pass rush. When the Redskins beat the Giants 20-13 in Week 8, Eli Manning was sacked eight times. The Redskins only sack of Carson Wentz Monday night was wiped out by a penalty.

Had the Giants (4-8) held a late lead against the Eagles two weeks ago, they’d be in the playoff chase.

New York is still ranked only 12th in the NFC on offense (350.2 yards per game) but running back Saquon Barkley and Odell Beckham, Jr. are producing. Barkley has 954 yards and eight touchdowns rushing to go with 602 receiving yards and four touchdowns. Beckham has 77 catches for 1,052 yards and two touchdowns. He’s also thrown two more touchdown passes than Sanchez this season.

The Giants defense ranks 14th in the NFC, allowing 377 yards per game. They’ve lost defensive back Landon Collins, their leading tackler, who will have shoulder surgery and is out for the rest of the season.

“We’re going to do it with the guys that have been playing,” Shurmur said of filling the void. “[Sean] Chandler will be in there, we still have the guys that have been playing, and we’ll just try to work the next man up.”

–Field Level Media

Read More 603 Words

NFC heavyweight Rams, Bears match up in Week 14 main event

NFC heavyweight Rams, Bears match up in Week 14 main event

The

NFC heavyweight Rams, Bears match up in Week 14 main event

The Los Angeles Rams have a chance to clinch a first-round playoff bye when they visit the Chicago Bears on Sunday night at Soldier Field.

Los Angeles (11-1) clinched the NFC West title for the second straight season. A win this weekend would give the Rams their first playoff bye since the 2003 season, when Mike Martz coached the team in St. Louis.

“It’s crazy right now, the energy and what’s going on,” Rams cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman said this week to the Los Angeles Times. “It’s just amazing — crazy in a good way. And we’ve got to keep it going.”

A difficult challenge awaits against Chicago (8-4), which also has sights on the postseason in its first season under head coach Matt Nagy. The Bears won five games in a row before losing in overtime to the New York Giants.

Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky has sat out the past two games because of a shoulder injury but could return for the prime-time matchup. He has passed for 2,469 yards, 20 touchdowns and nine interceptions this season, while backup Chase Daniel has passed for 515 yards, three touchdowns and two picks in two starts.

“I feel strong that he will play, but I’ve got to see more,” Nagy said Wednesday. “I’m anxious to get him out there and see him throw the ball around in practice with the guys.”

Both teams boast high-caliber offenses to go along with defenses that are hungry for takeaways.

The Rams are averaging 34.9 points per game thanks to a dynamic attack that includes, among others, Jared Goff at quarterback and MVP candidate Todd Gurley at running back. Gurley already has 1,649 yards from scrimmage (1,175 rushing, 474 receiving) and 19 total touchdowns (15 rushing, four receiving).

The Bears are not too far behind, averaging 28.7 points per contest. Anthony Miller and Tarik Cohen have scored six touchdowns apiece, while Trey Burton and Jordan Howard have five touchdowns apiece.

On defense, the Bears rank first in the NFL with a plus-30 takeaway margin. The Rams (plus-22) are tied for fourth.

Bears outside linebacker Khalil Mack has thrived since Chicago acquired him from the Oakland Raiders before the start of the season. In 10 games, he has nine sacks, five forced fumbles and an interception return for a score.

Defensive tackle Aaron Donald has 16.5 sacks to lead the league. He has a shot at former New York Giants defensive end Michael Strahan’s single-season sack record of 22.5.

“I’m just playing football,” Donald said to NFL Network last week. “Whatever happens, happens.”

–Field Level Media

Read More 365 Words

Rookie-dominated Cardinals set for Stafford, Lions

Rookie-dominated Cardinals set for Stafford, Lions

The Arizona Cardinals figured they would likely have

Rookie-dominated Cardinals set for Stafford, Lions

The Arizona Cardinals figured they would likely have a rookie playing quarterback in December.

But they never envisioned Josh Rosen getting his on-the-job training behind an offensive line with three other rookies undergoing the same baptism by fire.

The Cardinals (3-9) try to regroup behind their sewn-together offensive line when they host the Detroit Lions (4-8) on Sunday.

Left tackle D.J. Humphries went on injured reserve with a knee injury on Wednesday and that transaction completed a wipeout of the team’s preseason projected starting line.

Center A.Q. Shipley suffered a knee injury in training camp, right guard Justin Pugh injured his knee in mid-November and right tackle Andre Smith was released in late November. Standout left guard Mike Iupati suffered a season-ending knee injury in Sunday’s victory over the Green Bay Packers and he was placed on IR on Tuesday.

That leaves a patchwork unit of rookie left tackle Korey Cunningham, rookie left guard Colby Gossett, rookie center Mason Cole, right guard Oday Aboushi and right tackle Will Holden. Aboushi and Gossett joined the team in late October and Holden came aboard last week.

“You know you’re going to have some difficulties,” Arizona coach Steve Wilks told reporters. “You face that each and every year. But the attrition that we’ve had on the offensive line is just, I never experienced anything like this. But again, we’ve got to find ways to get guys ready to play.”

The group will try to provide Rosen (10 touchdowns, 11 interceptions) time to throw as the first-round pick looks to shake out of his recent doldrums.

Rosen has passed for fewer than 150 yards in each of the past three games. He is just 32-of-65 for 390 yards, four touchdowns and three interceptions during the stretch.

But Lions coach Matt Patricia fears a breakout could happen at any time. He feels Arizona has the type of skill players to pose problems.

“They’ve got a lot of good players, (receiver) Larry Fitzgerald and (running back) David Johnson, they just give him an opportunity to get the ball to those guys in different ways, to allow him to control it,” Patricia told reporters. “He’s obviously learning and going through the process right now.”

Detroit ranks 26th in scoring defense (26.3) and has given up 30 or more points in four of its defeats.

The Lions have dropped five of their past six games and close the season with three of four games on the road.

Defensive tackle Damon Harrison said it is important for Detroit to finish the season strong.

“It’s all about confidence,” Harrison told reporters. “It’s hard to gain confidence when you’re losing. Just stay in it. Be able to go into the offseason on a good note.”

Meanwhile, Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford is having a spotty season despite throwing for 3,086 yards. Stafford has thrown 18 touchdown passes — 11 shy of last season’s total — and his 11 interceptions top the total of 10 he threw in each of the past two campaigns.

Detroit revealed Wednesday that Stafford is dealing with a back injury. As for the rise in interceptions, offense coordinator Jim Bob Cooter said the miscues aren’t solely the fault of the signal caller.

“I think turnovers are always an offensive team stat,” Cooter said during a conference call. “There’s 11 guys on the field, there’s a bunch of coaches, bunch of other players. We’re all trying to do our job at the highest level we can do it.”

The Cardinals rank 29th in the NFL in turnover margin at minus-9 but are receiving standout play from defensive end Chandler Jones, who ranks third in the NFL with 12 sacks.

The Lions posted a 35-23 victory in last season’s meeting to end a seven-game slide against the Cardinals. Stafford passed for a season-high four touchdowns.

–Field Level Media

Read More 573 Words

Ravens plan to put brakes on Mahomes, Chiefs

Ravens plan to put brakes on Mahomes, Chiefs

A league-leading scoring average of 37 points provides a potential advantage for the Kansas City Chiefs where it matters most -- the scoreboard.

Let Andy Reid elaborate.

"It always comes down to, and don't slight the defense here, because

Ravens plan to put brakes on Mahomes, Chiefs

A league-leading scoring average of 37 points provides a potential advantage for the Kansas City Chiefs where it matters most — the scoreboard.

Let Andy Reid elaborate.

“It always comes down to, and don’t slight the defense here, because that’s important, but the thing is based on a points system,” said the Chiefs coach, who needs one more win to tie Marty Schottenheimer (205) for seventh on the all-time NFL wins list.

“Whoever scores the most wins the game. I don’t know any more than that. That’s what you try to do. It’s pretty simple, right? I’ll leave it at that.”

The Baltimore Ravens (7-5) intend to do anything to complicate such simplicity. They rank first defensively in the NFL, allowing 281.7 yards and 17.8 points. The Ravens will visit Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday looking to end an eight-game home win streak for the Chiefs, who at 10-2 own the best record in the AFC.

The matchup looms as a difficult test for both Kansas City units.

Although Patrick Mahomes has been lights out as a first-year starter, the Chiefs quarterback figures to see a variety of blitzes from schemes the Ravens effectively disguise.

Defensively, the Chiefs have struggled all season, allowing 33 points and 171 rushing yards last week to the woeful Oakland Raiders. Now, Kansas City faces a Baltimore offense that has won three straight with Lamar Jackson at quarterback, rushing for 716 yards over that span while controlling the clock an average of 37-plus minutes.

A stingy Baltimore defense, led by the likes of defensive end Terrell Suggs and linebacker C.J. Mosley, factors into the possession advantage.

Ravens coach John Harbaugh, however, realizes Mahomes presents a big-play threat with 43 passes of 25-plus yards and 41 touchdown strikes.

Those marks lead the NFL and incorporate the dynamic speed possessed by receivers such as Tyreek Hill, as well as well as the creativity of Reid, a coach Harbaugh once worked under in Philadelphia.

“He’s had coaches on his staff over the years that have specific areas of study,” Harbaugh said. “They look at college football and probably high school football. Probably junior high football, knowing Andy, and he just does a great job of that.”

Although the Chiefs released running back Kareem Hunt after a video was uncovered of an altercation last year’s NFL rushing leader had with a woman, standouts still exist. In addition to Hill, Travis Kelce is an elite pass-catcher who leads NFL tight ends with 1,082 yards receiving.

“In reality, holding this team to what we did last (week) is probably not going to happen,” said Ravens safety Eric Weddle, referencing the 131 yards Baltimore allowed in beating Atlanta 26-16. “But we can make things tough on them. We can create turnovers. We can hold them in the red zone. So those things are areas that we can do, and if we do that, we’ll be successful.”

Although Jackson is expected to start at quarterback, the Ravens’ Joe Flacco (hip) resumed activity at practice this week. Also, offensive tackle James Hurst could return from a nagging back injury.

Wide receiver Sammy Watkins returned to restricted practice reps for the Chiefs, who have still not used Eric Berry, though the veteran safety is participating in limited drills.

–Field Level Media

Read More 488 Words

Colts take swing at South-topping Texans

Colts take swing at South-topping Texans

If one is searching for

Colts take swing at South-topping Texans

If one is searching for a turning point to the Houston Texans’ season, rewind to Week 4 and a winless club fighting to avoid flushing its season after one month.

After starting 2018 with three straight losses to give it nine in a row, dating back to 2017, Houston coughed up a 28-10 third quarter lead at Indianapolis and trailed in overtime. But the Texans got 29 and 37-yard field goals from Ka’imi Fairbairn in the final 1:50 of the game to pull out a 37-34 win.

That started a nine-game winning streak that’s carried Houston (9-3) to the brink of an AFC South title. Should Jacksonville win Thursday night in Tennessee, the Texans could clinch on Sunday if they beat the Colts in a rematch.

“Pulling through the adversity, it just kind of slingshotted us to where we’re at now,” Houston quarterback Deshaun Watson said. “That was one game where we went through all types of phases, situations that kind of put us through this nine-game winning streak. It was the start of everything.”

Texans coach Bill O’Brien could have been headed for unemployment had his team dropped to 0-4. Instead, nine straight wins have furthered the notion that last year’s 5-11 record was a byproduct of a crushing injury wave more than poor talent or terrible coaching.

While Houston is riding the wave, Indianapolis was drowned by it last week in Jacksonville. Quarterback Andrew Luck’s streak of eight straight games with at least three touchdown passes ended in a bagel.

The 6-0 loss to a Jaguars team that had lost eight of nine prior to the game was made even more maddening by the Colts’ inability to pick up points from any of three situations where they turned down cinch field goals to go for it on fourth down and failed.

The last miss, which happened with 2:38 left when Luck was sacked for a 9-yard loss on fourth and goal from the 1, put Indianapolis in a four-team tie at 6-6.

That’s a game behind surging Baltimore for the AFC’s second wild-card spot.

“At the end of the day, it came down to execution,” Colts coach Frank Reich said. “Offensively, we just didn’t execute and that ultimately falls on me. It’s my job to put the players in the best position and we didn’t get that done.”

Luck and Watson combined for 839 yards and six touchdown passes in their September 30 meeting, four by Luck. But a failed fourth down gamble in Indianapolis territory gave the Texans a chance to win it, and Watson hit DeAndre Hopkins for 24 yards to set up Fairbairn for the game-winner.

–Field Level Media

Read More 380 Words

Packers pick up pace for Falcons after McCarthy move

Packers pick up pace for Falcons after McCarthy move

Packers pick up pace for Falcons after McCarthy move

When the schedule came out in the spring, Sunday’s matchup between the Atlanta Falcons and Green Bay Packers had all the makings of a potential classic.

Two of the NFL’s best teams.

Two of the NFL’s best quarterbacks.

At an iconic venue in December.

So much for that.

The Falcons (4-8) and Packers (4-7-1), who met in the NFC Championship game two years ago, are stumbling into Sunday’s game at Lambeau Field.

The Packers have lost five of their last six games. Because of it, coach Mike McCarthy was fired after his team lost at home to the woeful Cardinals. Offensive coordinator Joe Philbin, who was fired four games into his fourth season as coach of the Dolphins in 2015, will serve as interim coach.

“I told the guys, we’re looking for them to make progress, we’re looking for them to improve,” Philbin said. “We’ve got to clean up some areas and get better. I told them today again, I don’t have the magic pill. I told the defense, we’ve got to get off blocks, we’ve got to cover people, we’ve got to pursue, we’ve got to get guys on the ground and tackle well. I told the offense, we’ve got to block, we’ve got to throw and catch, we’ve got to run hard with the ball. That’s ultimately what wins games. Schemes are important but not as important as playing guys together and playing with great effort and playing fundamentally sound. That’s really the focus.”

The Falcons have lost their last four games. Coach Dan Quinn’s job appears safe after owner Arthur Blank gave him a ringing endorsement.

“Having a boss like him, you really want to get it right for him because of the support that he gives to me,” Quinn said. “I definitely appreciate it. I wasn’t looking for any of those things in that way, but I definitely appreciated it. And I recognized that the questions go with the territory when you fail more tests than you pass. Certainly these two teams who are strong and proud teams have had disappointing seasons up to this point.”

Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, the 2016 MVP, is having an excellent season. He’s completed almost 71 percent of his passes with 25 touchdowns vs. five interceptions. But the Falcons have a feeble running game and a propensity to sleep walk through the third quarter. During their four-game losing streak, they’re yet to score 20 points.

Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, the 2011 and 2014 MVP, is 23 passes away from breaking Tom Brady’s NFL-record streak of 358 consecutive passes without an interception. But he’s completed only 61.8 percent of his passes. The Packers have been awful on third down all season, a major reason why they’re only 16th in the league in scoring.

“I think everybody’s kind of realizing that we’re all under the microscope even more,” Rodgers said. “Who knows what the changes are going to be after the season? So, there’s the feeling that more eyes are on all of us, whether Mark (Murphy, the team president and CEO) or Brian (Gutekunst, the general manager) or scouts. I feel like the energy was good today. Unfortunately, the urgency that you need early in the season, we kind of had out in practice today.”

–Field Level Media

Read More 487 Words

Ailing Newton, Panthers enter Browns’ lair

Ailing Newton, Panthers enter Browns' lair

As messed up as the

Ailing Newton, Panthers enter Browns’ lair

As messed up as the Cleveland Browns have looked at times, the Carolina Panthers arrive with perhaps more pressing problems.

The teams face off Sunday afternoon at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland, with the Browns looking like the team in a better mindset.

Meanwhile, the Panthers (6-6) have tumbled out of the projected NFC playoff mix with four consecutive losses and the week began with the firing of two defensive assistant coaches.

“We put ourselves in this situation and we have to get ourselves out,” Carolina quarterback Cam Newton said.

That’s a theme that has reverberated around the Panthers.

“The last few games we have played have come down to the last opportunities we have had, whether it be on offense or defense,” coach Ron Rivera said. “You just have to make a play. That is unfortunately something we haven’t been able to do right now.”

Rivera has made changes, taking over defensive play-calling duties. Plus, the team fired defensive line coach Brady Hoke and assistant secondary / cornerbacks coach Jeff Imamura at the start of the week.

“Ultimately, I’m charged with putting the team in the best position to succeed, and I felt these moves were necessary in order to do that,” Rivera said.

Defensive coordinator Eric Washington will oversee the front seven.

Cleveland (4-7-1) is coming off a 29-13 loss at Houston after winning two games in a row. So the Browns have had a considerable better stretch than Carolina.

Even with last week’s setback, Browns coach Gregg Williams describes a good vibe around the team.

“The guys have been very determined, very focused,” Williams said. “We have to put ourselves in better position to win. … But the guys never flinched.”

Newton threw four interceptions at Tampa Bay, marking his most pick-offs thrown since his rookie season, and sat out Wednesday’s practice to rest a weary throwing shoulder.

“I can’t allow that and accept that from myself,” Newton said. “I just have to do a better job with my accuracy and decision-making.”

The Browns also gave up four turnovers in the loss at Houston.

“The value of protecting the ball you can’t over-value that,” Williams said. “We have to protect the ball.”

Like Newton, Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield is a past Heisman Trophy winner. A year ago this weekend, he received the honor as a player for Oklahoma.

He’s the first Browns quarterback to throw for at least one touchdown in nine straight starts since Bernie Kosar in 1987. He set the team’s rookie record for passing yards in last week’s game.

“Our offense has been outstanding in the last month,” Williams said.

Mayfield, who wasn’t intercepted three times at Houston, hasn’t been sacked in the past three games.

“I think his mobility is excellent,” Williams said. “There’s just a feel for playing the position and extending the play.”

Williams said he doesn’t think the three pickoffs thrown by Mayfield will impact him going into the Carolina game.

Both teams have floundered in key defensive situations. That’s among the reasons at the root of Rivera’s frustrations.

The Browns have similar concerns.

“We’ve got to execute (on third-down defense),” Williams said.

The Panthers are 1-5 on the road. They’ve been close a few times on the road, but slow starts have been the norm.

“You’ve got to make plays earlier in the game so that it doesn’t come down to that (at the end),” linebacker Luke Kuechly said.

Carolina put tight end Greg Olsen on injured reserve Wednesday, ending his injury-riddled season.

The Browns might be without cornerback Denzel Ward, who has been in concussion protocol and was held out of practice Wednesday.

The Panthers remain in range of the NFC South-leading New Orleans Saints because those teams matchup twice across the last three weeks of the season.

Carolina has won four of five all-time meetings with the Browns, including the most-recent matchup in 2014 at home. Cleveland’s lone victory came 24-23 in 2010 at home.

–Field Level Media

Read More 602 Words