Film Study: How the Steelers finally foiled Brady

Film Study: How the Steelers finally foiled Brady

Everybody was waiting for the Pittsburgh Steelers to fail again.

As detailed in our Week 15 preview, Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski & Company torched Pittsburgh’s defense for 173 points in the last five meetings, all New England Patriots victories.

The task was even tougher Sunday, with Pittsburgh’s offense producing just 17 points. Ben Roethlisberger threw two picks, Chris Boswell missed a chip-shot field goal and a forward-progress ruling nullified a strip and recovery by the Steelers’ D in its own red zone.

No matter.

A glaring question mark coming in, Keith Butler’s defense was outstanding … after its first series, anyway.

New England came out and dictated with tempo, creating confusion and easy yards, and then sprung Chris Hogan for the most wide-open catch (18 yards from the nearest defender, per Next Gen Stats) by any NFL player this season. The 63-yard touchdown came directly from a matchup-zone coverage bust — one of the Steelers’ concerns we detailed in Thursday’s preview — and looked like a harbinger of another big day for Brady.

Instead, that was almost all New England could muster. The Patriots followed with five consecutive punts, a 13-play, 63-yard field-goal drive that required a pass-interference penalty to convert third-and-16, and two red-zone failures that sealed the game.

After watching Brady dice up their zones for years and solve their man coverage late last season, the Steelers struck a perfect balance on Sunday. On early downs, Butler mixed in five-man pressures with matchup zones; in long-yardage situations, he used more traditional zones (dropping eight at times) but often rotated to them from various disguises; and on most third downs, he opted for 2-man coverage with a key wrinkle.

Rather than leaving his two safeties deep, Butler had them sit 10-12 yards off the line and play aggressively downhill. One of the two (usually rookie Terrell Edmunds) bracketed Gronkowski, who was also matched by a man underneath (usually Sean Davis, whom Gronk exploited in single coverage last year). The other high safety was mostly kept free to double-team routes between the numbers.

The approach dared Brady to throw deep and outside, areas he has struggled to attack with age, and limited Gronkowski to two catches for 21 yards. It also routinely forced Brady to his second or third read, which the Steelers’ pass rush made more difficult by pushing the pocket.

Despite getting home for just one sack, rushers repeatedly put bodies (their own, or New England’s blockers) near Brady’s feet, forcing him to reset and drift rather than stepping up on balance. Cameron Heyward, Stephon Tuitt, T.J. Watt combined for seven QB hits, and even 352-pounder Dan McCullers had a pressure. The payoff came with one of the worst interceptions you’ll ever see Brady throw: a hot air balloon off his back foot — as Heyward, Tuitt and Watt converged — on second-and-goal from the 16 midway through the fourth quarter.

The Patriots’ most consistent production came on the ground and off play-action, but game script limited those opportunities. Brady hit Gronkowski and Edelman for a combined 38 yards on back-to-back play-action throws early in the fourth, but New England’s final 15 snaps included 12 straight dropbacks, two runs and one play-action screen as it played catch-up.

Gronkowski’s other grab came when Edmunds played a hair too deep from his 2-high alignment, allowing a key third-and-8 conversion, but Pittsburgh held him to five total targets.

Two of those came in the final three plays, but Gronkowski was actually used as a chip-blocker twice on the final drive — a startling role for the man who had four grabs for 69 yards on the game-winning march last year.

In terms of efficiency, the Steelers weren’t quite as good as 10 points allowed would suggest. New England’s unforced errors included six presnap flags and three or four drops. Pittsburgh also faced just nine drives — it would have been eight if Roethlisberger converted the final third down — as both teams’ rushing success (254 combined yards on 44 carries) shortened the contest. The Pats wound up averaging more yards per play than the Steelers (6.6 to 6.2), with red-zone failures the biggest difference.

Even so, Butler and his unit deserve tremendous credit. Other than an early hiccup, they executed a slew of coverages and disguises with discipline and chemistry. Pass rush aided coverage and vice versa, exactly how you draw it up. And all 11 defenders rallied to the ball like madmen, eating up the screens and quick throws that used to papercut Pittsburgh to death.

Unlike last year, the Steelers have more work to do just to reach January, but if current standings hold, they’ll meet the Patriots again in three weeks. That game would be in Foxborough, but you know what they say: defense travels.

-Colts beat Cowboys with bully ball

The Colts’ win Sunday was no shock, but their methods certainly raised eyebrows.

Indianapolis beat Dallas — riding defense and timely playmaking to a five-game win streak — at its own game. Andrew Luck completed just 16 passes for 192 yards and no scores, but the Colts ran for 178 yards and held the Cowboys to 292 total yards (4.6 per play).

Given his familiarity with his opponent, Colts defensive coordinator (and former Cowboys assistant) Matt Eberflus’ plan was telling. As expected, he favored Cover-3 over Cover-2 to get an extra safety in the box against Ezekiel Elliott, but he also mixed in myriad changeups through blitzes.

Though he rarely rushed more than five, Eberflus sent several defensive backs on blitzes, including some with multiple Dbs. Many came from the slot, but not always — on one third down, outside cornerback Quincy Wilson aligned over the center and rushed the A-gap, an extremely uncommon tactic.

The approach was aimed at speeding up Prescott — whom Eberflus knows well from facing him in practice — mentally while keeping eyes on the mobile QB in zone. Prescott delivered some nice throws, but he let several get away from him, sailing crossers and underthrowing wide-open targets.

Indy’s defensive line gave Dallas’ battered front five fits. Denico Autry, Margus Hunt and 2017 fourth-rounder Grover Stewart fired aggressively off the snap, getting penetration or bench-pressing their man into the backfield. Such aggressiveness creates extra run lanes — Elliott totaled 87 yards on 18 carries — but it also prevents O-linemen from reaching linebackers as easily, keeping stud rookie Darius Leonard and second-year man Anthony Walker clean to make tackles.

The penetration short-circuited many runs, as center Joe Looney (starting for Travis Frederick), right guard Connor Williams (starting for Zack Martin) and left guard Alex Redmond (replacing Xavier Su’a-Filo, who left in the second) reacted too slowly to slants and backside swim moves. Looney failed to reach Hunt on an outside-zone run on perhaps the game’s most critical play, a fourth-and-1 stuff from the Colts’ 3-yard line early in the second quarter.

The D-line also bothered Prescott often with its rush. Outside of intriguing but inconsistent rookie Kemoko Turay — who didn’t play Sunday — the Colts’ front has few rushers reliant on speed or quickness, meaning most are best off going through blockers. That doesn’t always produce sacks (just three Sunday), but it’s better for pushing the pocket, and Prescott was often forced off the spot.

Hunt and Autry (six sacks in his last three games) each put dents in the line, with Autry doing the most damage. Before beating Redmond late for a sack, he forced Looney to drag him down for two holding penalties, including one nullifying a fourth-and-2 conversion in the third quarter. (Autry also blocked Brett Maher’s 48-yard field-goal attempt on the opening drive.)

On the back end, the Colts’ zones were disciplined and cohesive. They held up long enough to create a pair of coverage sacks, including one thwarting a deep play-action design. Leonard showed great awareness for routes and closed quickly to break up two throws to Cole Beasley, tipping one to Walker (who dropped an interception), and knocking another down on fourth-and-1 to open the fourth quarter. Cornerbacks Quincy Wilson and Pierre Desir were steady but not standout — like most of the season — each delivering key break-ups.

While Eberflus’ unit stole the show, the Colts’ offense also ran right through a previously stingy Cowboys D. Marlon Mack led a sustained run game with 139 yards and two scores despite a long of just 21. He broke six tackles, gaining at least 4 yards after contact on 10 carries and at least 6 after contact on seven totes.

Indy’s offensive line won with both scheme and physicality. Frank Reich employed all kinds of runs with misdirection elements — most notably trap, but also split zone, pin-and-pull and some arc releases — and there was a clear emphasis on climbing quickly from double teams to reach the Cowboys’ fast young linebackers.

Center Ryan Kelly, left guard Quenton Nelson and left tackle Anthony Castonzo (often as a puller) landed squarely on Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch, both of whom have proven adept at slipping blocks. The Colts’ front also handled the Cowboys’ slants and stunts quite smoothly, a testament to their composure and chemistry.

The win was Indianapolis’ seventh in eight games, but this felt different than the others.

We know Andrew Luck is capable of carrying the Colts. If the defense and run game are ready to take turns as well, this team could do serious damage in January (assuming it finds a way in).

-How sustainable is the Vikings’ new offense?

Interim offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski had one heck of a debut as an NFL playcaller.

The newly promoted quarterbacks coach guided Minnesota to touchdowns on its first three possessions and totals of 41 points and 418 yards. More importantly, the Vikings had the balance Mike Zimmer wanted from John DeFilippo, posting season highs with 220 rushing yards on 40 carries (5.5 average).

But it’s far too simple to say everything is fixed.

There’s a reason DeFilippo was hesitant to run it. The Vikings topped 4.0 yards per carry in just three of their first 13 games, mostly due to an offensive line that struggles to clear lanes and sustain blocks. The group had issues last year too (3.9 ypc) and didn’t really replace retired guard Joe Berger. Even with rookie right tackle Brian O’Neill settling in surprisingly well, the unit remains shaky.

The Dolphins’ wildly inconsistent run defense certainly aided Sunday’s efficiency. Starting tackles Akeem Spence and Davon Godchaux were moved almost at will, and notably up-and-down linebackers Kiko Alonso and Raekwon McMillan swung hard in the latter direction, getting sloppy with their run fits and struggling to shed blocks. Likewise, an inordinate amount of production came against very light boxes — sometimes creating 6-on-6 blocking — and via shoddy tackling by Miami’s cornerbacks, factors that can’t be counted on every week.

Dalvin Cook and Latavius Murray ran extremely well, and Stefanski helped them with more use of fullback C.J. Ham (18 snaps, second most this season), adding dimension to run designs. The tight ends and wideouts also blocked well, sealing edges and allowing the backs to bounce.

Perhaps most encouraging from Stefanski’s approach was the overlap between the run and pass game, something DeFilippo’s scheme often lacked. Many of the Vikings’ passes on Sunday came out of run-heavy formations, as Stefanski put Kirk Cousins under center more, used condensed sets and employed motion toward the line to help sell play-action. Cousins, who always thrived off play-action in Washington, responded well, reading the field with definition and delivering accurately from inside and outside the pocket.

The performance wasn’t without hiccups — after Cousins’ pick-six, Minnesota gained just 18 yards total on its next four possessions (excluding the end of the first half) — and there will be bumps moving forward. Stingier run defenses and less favorable game scripts will test Stefanski’s patience. As Zimmer said afterward, “It’s easy (to run it) when you’re getting five and six (yards) a pop.”

Likewise, teams will keep double-teaming wideouts Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs (just six catches for 68 yards combined Sunday) and force someone else to beat them.

Kudos to Stefanski for implementing the changes Zimmer wanted and debuting with flying colors. Now let’s see how defenses respond, and whether or not the issues that previously plagued Minnesota’s offense resurface.

–David DeChant, Field Level Media

NFL notebook: Monday Night Football coming to playoffs?

NFL notebook: Monday Night Football coming to playoffs?

If the Los Angeles Chargers beat the Kansas

NFL notebook: Monday Night Football coming to playoffs?

If the Los Angeles Chargers beat the Kansas City Chiefs this weekend and the Indianapolis Colts top the New England Patriots, the NFL will have a decision to make.

Will the Chargers be allowed to host the AFC Championship Game at their temporary home, the 30,000-seat Dignity Health Sports Park in suburban Carson, Calif., or will the league move the game to a stadium with larger capacity?

CBS Sports reported Friday that the NFL league office will be discussing contingency plans should the fifth-seeded Chargers and sixth-seeded Colts advance. That would give the Chargers home-field advantage in the championship game.

CBS’ Jason La Canfora reported last month that officials had discussed the potential of moving the game to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, home of the Rams. That could still be a Plan B, La Canfora said, but if the Rams host the championship game, as well, both games could not be played on Sunday. Instead, one of the conference championship games could be played on Monday night under that scenario, he said.

–The Miami Dolphins appear set to continue the AFC East’s game of musical chairs, as the team has zeroed in on New England Patriots assistant coach Brian Flores for its head-coaching vacancy, multiple outlets reported.

Flores, 37, joined the Patriots in 2004 as a scouting assistant and has been with the franchise since. This is his third season as New England’s linebackers coach and his first as the defensive play-caller. He assumed those duties after defensive coordinator Matt Patricia left to be the head coach in Detroit last offseason.

Miami fired head coach Adam Gase after three seasons following the end of the regular season. Also on Friday, another AFC East team — the New York Jets — introduced Gase as their new head coach.

–Gary Kubiak apparently will not move from the front office to the field to serve as offensive coordinator for new Denver Broncos coach Vic Fangio, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

“After lengthy discussions, Denver and Kubiak had different ideas on staffing and offensive philosophies,” Schefter tweeted. “Both sides going in different directions.”

NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport tweeted that Denver appears to have turned its attention to Mike Munchak, the Pittsburgh Steelers offensive line coach and former NFL head coach who was a finalist for the head coaching job.

–The man Fangio replaced, former Broncos head coach Vance Joseph, will serve as the Arizona Cardinals defensive coordinator, the team announced.

Joseph, the first significant hire for new head coach Kliff Kingsbury, is expected to transition the Cardinals to a 3-4 defense from the 4-3 defense the team ran last season under then-coach Steve Wilks.

Also on Friday, ESPN reported that former Atlanta Falcons OC Steve Sarkisian was “closing in” on the Cardinals OC position. Sarkisian, 44, was fired after two years in Atlanta that reportedly did not meet the standard set during Kyle Shanahan’s tenure.

–Greg Roman will replace Marty Mornhinweg as offensive coordinator of the Baltimore Ravens.

New general manager Eric DeCosta, introduced Friday in the official changing of the guard with retiring GM Ozzie Newsome, made the announcement. Mornhinweg is expected to be offered another role on the offensive staff, and additional changes are expected.

Roman spent last season as the assistant head coach and tight ends coach in Baltimore but has experience working with run-first quarterbacks, which the Ravens have in Lamar Jackson. He was offensive coordinator of the San Francisco 49ers when the team switched in-season from Alex Smith to Colin Kaepernick. That team lost to the Ravens in the Super Bowl.

–In a technical formality, the Philadelphia Eagles officially declared quarterback Carson Wentz “out” for their Sunday divisional playoff matchup with the New Orleans Saints.

Wentz sustained a stress injury in his back on Dec. 9 against the Dallas Cowboys and has not played since — sitting out the Eagles’ final three regular-season games and their 16-15 wild-card win over the Chicago Bears last weekend.

The team has not placed Wentz on injured reserve, leading to the need to declare him inactive each week.

–Field Level Media

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Kuchar starts strong, grabs Sony Open lead

Kuchar starts strong, grabs Sony Open lead

Kuchar starts strong, grabs Sony Open lead

A hot start to the second round sent Matt Kuchar on his way to a one-shot lead at the midpoint of the Sony Open in Hawaii on Friday.

Starting on the back nine, Kuchar ran off three consecutive birdies and made it four in five holes en route to his second consecutive 7-under-par 63 at Waialae in Honolulu. He sits at 14-under 126 through two rounds, with Andrew Putnam in second at 13 under after a 65 on Friday.

“I think yesterday was a little bit cleaner, but today, I took advantage early,” Kuchar said on the Golf Channel. “The first few holes I don’t necessarily think of as birdie holes, but birdied the first three and just got off to a really good start.”

Kuchar made 116 feet of putts on the day.

“That’s certainly a helpful thing. I love when the putter’s hot,” he said. “I felt good over (the putts). The greens are beautiful. They’re in great shape. They just roll so nice, so it’s good to see some go in.”

His round ended up including six birdies, a bogey and an eagle on the par-5 18th hole, where he sank a 16-foot putt.

In November, Kuchar won the Mayakoba Golf Classic for his eighth career PGA Tour win, and he followed with two more top-20 finishes to end the calendar year. The Sony Open is his 2019 debut.

“I feel in pretty good control of what I’m doing,” he said of his current form. “Not sure a lot’s changed. I just kind of continue to evolve, continue to improve. That’s the goal out here. You never know when wins are going to come. You just hope (you’ll) always get better.”

Putnam had a bogey-free round that featured two birdies on the back nine and then three on the front nine. He concluded with a birdie on the par-5 ninth hole, slicing his deficit behind Kuchar to a single stroke.

Stewart Cink shot 8 under on Friday to leave him tied for third at 10 under with Chez Reavie, who shot 5 under in the second round.

Cink produced eight birdies and a single bogey.

“It was a great day out there. Really all facets of the game were firing,” Cink said on the Golf Channel. “I drove it well, hit a lot of good irons. I rolled in a lot of putts from the range that makes a lot of difference in your score, like 10 to 20 feet. …

“That’s kind of a hallmark of my game over my whole career is I do have a lot of putts in that range because I’m usually one of the better ball-strikers, but when you see ’em going in, the game feels a little easy.”

Ted Potter Jr. (5 under on Friday) and Australia’s Marc Leishman (6 under) are tied for fifth at 9 under. Hudson Swafford and Japan’s Shugo Imahira each had a 3-under second round, and they share seventh place at 8 under.

First-round leader Adam Svensson of Canada stumbled from a 9-under round on Thursday to a 4-over round on Friday. He is tied for 20th at 5 under.

Defending champion Patton Kizzire is also tied for 20th following an up-and-down, 2-under round on Friday. He made the turn at 2 over for the day. Following a birdie, an eagle and then back-to-back bogeys, Kizzire birdied each of his final three holes.

–Field Level Media

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Bears hire Pagano as defensive coordinator

Bears hire Pagano as defensive coordinator

After one year out

Bears hire Pagano as defensive coordinator

After one year out of the NFL coaching ranks, Chuck Pagano was hired Friday as the Chicago Bears’ new defensive coordinator.

The former Indianapolis Colts head coach takes over the role vacated when Vic Fangio was hired this week to be the head coach of the Denver Broncos.

Bears head coach Matt Nagy said in a statement, “We are excited to add Chuck to our staff as defensive coordinator. He has successful experience at many different levels in this league, and he is a great teacher with an aggressive mentality that fits our style of football. He is a man of high character and has a passion for the game that will no doubt add to the culture we have already started building at Halas Hall.”

Multiple media outlets reported that Pagano got the job over Bears defensive backs coach Ed Donatell, who also was interviewed.

Pagano, 58, posted a 53-43 regular-season record with the Colts from 2012-17. He also had a 3-3 playoff mark. Pagano missed most of the 2012 season while undergoing treatment for leukemia.

However, after producing three consecutive 11-5 seasons and three playoff berths at the start of his tenure, Pagano watched his Colts experience a pair of 8-8 years followed by a 4-12 season in 2017 that led to his firing.

Pagano spent last year working as an NFL consultant.

He inherits a Chicago defense that was one of the league’s best this season. Under Fangio, the Bears allowed the fewest points in the NFL, 17.7 per game. They finished third in total defense, allowing 299.7 yards per game, including a league-low 80 rushing yards per game.

The Bears also topped the NFL in takeaways (36) and lowest opponents’ passer rating (72.9).

Pagano’s coaching experience includes stints at the University of Southern California, Miami (Fla.), Boise State, East Carolina, UNLV and North Carolina in the 1980s and 1990s. He broke into the NFL as the Cleveland Browns’ secondary coach from 2001-04, and he was the Oakland Raiders’ defensive backs coach in 2005-06.

Pagano became the Ravens’ secondary coach from 2008-10 before serving as Baltimore’s defensive coordinator in 2011.

–Field Level Media

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Eagles QB Wentz out for Saints matchup

Eagles QB Wentz out for Saints matchup

In a technical formality Friday, the Philadelphia Eagles

Eagles QB Wentz out for Saints matchup

In a technical formality Friday, the Philadelphia Eagles officially declared quarterback Carson Wentz “out” for their Sunday divisional playoff matchup with the New Orleans Saints.

Wentz sustained a stress injury in his back on Dec. 9 against the Dallas Cowboys and has not played since — sitting out the Eagles’ final three regular-season games and their 16-15 wild-card win over the Chicago Bears last weekend.

The team has not placed Wentz on injured reserve, leading to the need to declare him inactive each week.

Nick Foles, who led the Eagles to the Super Bowl title last year as Wentz sat out the playoffs due to a torn anterior cruciate ligament, has thrived in Wentz’s absence again over the past month.

Foles led Philadelphia to wins over the Los Angeles Rams, the Houston Texans and the Washington Redskins to close out the regular season and lift the team into the playoffs at 9-7. He then guided the Eagles on the winning drive Sunday at Chicago, hitting Golden Tate for a 2-yard touchdown with 56 seconds left.

The Eagles hung on for the win when they tipped the Bears’ last-second field goal attempt and the ball hit an upright and the crossbar before bouncing back onto the field of play.

In 11 games this season, Wentz completed 69.6 percent of his passes for 3,074 yards and 21 touchdowns with seven interceptions.

Philadelphia listed six injured players as questionable for the game at New Orleans: defensive end Michael Bennett (foot), wide receiver Shelton Gibson (hamstring), wide receiver Mike Wallace (ankle), linebacker D.J. Alexander (hamstring), left tackle Jason Peters (quadriceps) and cornerback Sidney Jones (hamstring).

–Field Level Media

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Report: Kubiak will not join new Denver staff

Report: Kubiak will not join new Denver staff

Gary

Report: Kubiak will not join new Denver staff

Gary Kubiak apparently will not move from the front office to the field to serve as offensive coordinator for new coach Vic Fangio.

ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported Friday afternoon that Kubiak will not work on Fangio’s staff.

“After lengthy discussions, Denver and Kubiak had different ideas on staffing and offensive philosophies,” Schefter tweeted. “Both sides going in different directions.”

When Fangio was hired Wednesday, it was widely reported that Kubiak, who was head coach when the Broncos won the Super Bowl in 2016, would assume the role. Fangio declined to confirm that at his introductory news conference Thursday.

Kubiak stepped down as Denver coach after the 2016 season, citing health reasons, and was elevated to a personnel role.

NFL Network insider Ian Rapoport tweeted that Denver appears to have turned its attention to Mike Munchak, the Pittsburgh offensive line coach and former NFL head coach who was a finalist for the head coaching job.

“OL coach Mike Munchak is among the best at what he does, and Denver had him in the final 2 for their HC interviews. Possibly adding both Munchak and Vic Fangio would be quite a coup for the #Broncos,” he wrote.

–Field Level Media

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Report: Dolphins zero in on Pats’ Flores for HC

Report: Dolphins zero in on Pats' Flores for HC

The Miami Dolphins appear

Report: Dolphins zero in on Pats’ Flores for HC

The Miami Dolphins appear set to continue the AFC East’s game of musical chairs, as the team has zeroed in on New England assistant Brian Flores for its head-coaching vacancy, multiple outlets reported Friday.

NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport tweeted the Dolphins “have narrowed the focus of their search to #Patriots defensive play-caller Brian Flores as their new head coach. No deal yet, nothing official. But that’s their target.”

But The MMQB’s Albert Breer took it a step further, stating, “The Dolphins are expected to hire Patriots LBs coach Brian Flores as head coach after New England’s season ends.”

Flores, 37, joined the Patriots in 2004 as a scouting assistant and has been with the franchise since. This is his third season as New England’s linebackers coach and his first as the defensive play-caller. He assumed those duties after defensive coordinator Matt Patricia left to be the head coach in Detroit last offseason.

The Patriots (11-5) host the Los Angeles Chargers this Sunday in the divisional round of the AFC playoffs. The Patriots rank 21st in the NFL in yards allowed in the regular season, up from 29th last season. And while the team gave up 29 more points than last season, it still ranked seventh in the league.

Miami fired head coach Adam Gase after three seasons following the end of the regular season. Also on Friday, another AFC East team — the New York Jets — introduced Gase as their new head coach.

–Field Level Media

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Cardinals hire ex-Broncos coach Joseph as DC

Cardinals hire ex-Broncos coach Joseph as DC

Former Denver Broncos head coach Vance Joseph will

Cardinals hire ex-Broncos coach Joseph as DC

Former Denver Broncos head coach Vance Joseph will serve as the Arizona Cardinals’ defensive coordinator, the team announced Friday.

Joseph, the first significant hire for new coach Kliff Kingsbury, is expected to transition the Cardinals to a 3-4 defense from the 4-3 defense the team ran last season under then-coach Steve Wilks.

It had been speculated the Cardinals would follow the Los Angeles Rams’ lead of pairing a young, offensive-minded head coach with a coordinator with head coaching experience, as the Rams did with Sean McVay and Wade Phillips.

And that’s just what they got with Joseph, 46, who compiled an 11-21 record in two seasons with the Broncos. He had extensive experience as a defensive backs coach before the Miami Dolphins named him defensive coordinator in 2016.

The Cardinals also announced the return of former defensive coordinator Bill Davis (2009-10), who will coach the linebackers. He held that position the past two seasons at Ohio State, but new head coach Ryan Day chose not to retain him.

In addition, the Cardinals said special teams coordinator Jeff Rodgers will stay in that position under Kingsbury.

–Field Level Media

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Ravens name Roman offensive coordinator

Ravens name Roman offensive coordinator

Ravens name Roman offensive coordinator

Greg Roman will replace Marty Mornhinweg as offensive coordinator of the Baltimore Ravens.

New general manager Eric DeCosta, introduced Friday in the official changing of the guard with retiring GM Ozzie Newsome, made the announcement. Mornhinweg is expected to be offered another role on the offensive staff, and additional changes are expected.

Roman’s star pupil will be Lamar Jackson. Jackson guided the Ravens to the playoffs after displacing Joe Flacco as Baltimore’s starter.

Roman spent last season as the assistant head coach and tight ends coach in Baltimore.

Roman has worked with run-first quarterbacks in the past. He was offensive coordinator of the San Francisco 49ers when the team switched in-season from Alex Smith to Colin Kaepernick. That team lost to the Ravens in the Super Bowl.

Roman also was offensive coordinator of the Buffalo Bills, who made Tyrod Taylor a starting quarterback under Roman’s direction.

–Field Level Media

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Svensson shoots career-low 61 to lead Sony Open

Svensson shoots career-low 61 to lead Sony Open

Svensson shoots career-low 61 to lead Sony Open

Canada’s Adam Svensson shot a career-best round of 9-under-par 61 on Thursday to claim the lead after the first round of the Sony Open in Hawaii.

Svensson, 25, put his second shot on the par-5 18th hole in the rough to the right of the green, but he was able to get up and down for birdie to move out of a tie for the lead with American Andrew Putnam. The 61 marked Svensson’s lowest career round on the PGA or Web.com Tours.

The Surrey, British Columbia, native turned pro in 2015 and is ranked 444th in the world. Svensson finished eighth in the Web.com Tour Championship, but he failed to finish better than a tie for 39th in five PGA events in the fall swing, including missing the cut in his final three.

The scoring on the short, par-70 Waialae Country Club course in Honolulu was particularly low in the afternoon wave when the winds died down, and Svensson will have plenty of challengers over the final three rounds.

Matt Kuchar is in solo third place after a 7-under 63 on Thursday, tying the lowest opening round of the 40-year-old’s career.

“I feel like I’ve just evolved into a better player,” Kuchar said. “This course is unique, we don’t play many like it. Reminds me a little bit of Hilton Head, a little bit of Colonial. It’s tight, it’s narrow, it’s flat, but man, it’s tricky.”

Fellow Americans Chez Reavie and Hudson Swafford along with Japan’s Shugo Imahira are tied for fourth place at 5 under.

Patton Kizzire and Justin Thomas, the past two event champions, are both at 3 under after posting 67s on Thursday. Thomas has now shot 68 or lower in nine consecutive rounds at Waialae.

Jordan Spieth, making his 2019 debut after failing to qualify for last week’s Tournament of Champions, struggled to a 3-over 73 and will need a strong Friday to avoid missing his second consecutive cut. Spieth made just 33 feet of putts while carding a lone birdie against four bogeys.

“It was kind of a test, I guess,” Spieth told reporters after the round. “It’s very unusual, I don’t feel like I’ve been in this situation before. But it’s OK … I felt like I was patient out there, and I still am.

“Like I said, it could take a while. I got pretty far off (my game), so I’m trying to backtrack significantly, but I need to get some tournament rounds to do it … even though it’s pretty humbling at the same time.”

He is tied with Australia’s Adam Scott, who is also making his 2019 debut.

By comparison, Putnam made 174 feet of putts, gaining 6.844 strokes on the field on the greens, according to PGATour.com.

“The putter was hot … it was getting a little ridiculous out there,” Putnam said. “The hole was very large and the ball was going in. It was fun.”

Peter Jung, the 16-year-old amateur who qualified for his first PGA Tour event by winning the Hawaiian qualifier, is last in the field by eight strokes after struggling to a 14-over 84.

–Field Level Media

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Panthers S Reid’s lawyers reject report findings, request info

Panthers S Reid's lawyers reject report findings, request info

Panthers S Reid’s lawyers reject report findings, request info

The legal team for Carolina Panthers safety Eric Reid rejected the findings in a report released Wednesday by NFL/NFLPA that there was no evidence he was targeted for drug testing and are demanding a response on the matter, according to a report by CBSsports.com.

In a letter to the NFL and NFLPA, Reid’s legal team also requested more information as to how these findings were made, as well as a public correction of several dates the NFL used in its report that Reid’s team says are incorrect. The lawyers have asked for access to all evidence, records, electronic messages and information sources used to determine the report’s findings.

On Wednesday, the league and union released the results of its joint investigation into Reid’s claim that he was targeted by the NFL’s performance-enhancing drug testing program. Reid, a close friend and supporter of former teammate of Colin Kaepernick, believes he was being tested more than normal.

After the Panthers’ game on Dec. 17, Reid said he’d undergone his seventh drug test since joining the team as a free agent in September. He suggested the tests weren’t random and that he was tested repeatedly because of a collusion grievance he’d filed against the league.

A joint statement Wednesday from the NFL and players association said their investigation showed no evidence of his claims: “Mr. Reid’s tests were randomly generated via computer algorithm and that his selection for testing was normal when compared with the number of tests players were randomly selected for throughout the league during the time that he was on an active roster. There is no evidence of targeting or any other impropriety with respect to his selection for testing.”

Based on the collective bargaining agreement, drug testing is conducted by an independent laboratory — without the NFL or NFLPA’s involvement — with players’ names chosen at random by a computer.

Reid also said he has never failed a test. Failed tests warrant more frequent testing tied to tiered penalties for further failed tests.

The San Francisco 49ers selected Reid with the No. 18 overall pick of the 2013 NFL Draft. Reid, 27, became the first player to join Kaepernick in kneeling during the national anthem to protest social injustice.

The NFLPA filed a collusion grievance on Reid’s behalf in May alleging that NFL owners colluded to keep Reid from being signed, in response to his protests during the national anthem.

Reid, a 2013 Pro Bowler, was an unrestricted free agent from March until Sept. 28, when the Panthers signed him after an injury to Da’Norris Searcy. Reid has not dropped the grievance, which is expected to be heard during the offseason.

–Field Level Media

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NFL notebook: Bengals hope to hire Rams QB coach Taylor

NFL notebook: Bengals hope to hire Rams QB coach Taylor

The Cincinnati Bengals would

NFL notebook: Bengals hope to hire Rams QB coach Taylor

The Cincinnati Bengals would like to hire Los Angeles Rams quarterbacks coach Zac Taylor to be their next head coach, multiple media outlets reported Thursday.

No team can hire Taylor until the Rams’ season is over, but Taylor reportedly is the Bengals’ top choice. ESPN reported that Taylor also wants to be in Cincinnati, where he coached as the Cincinnati Bearcats’ offensive coordinator in 2016.

Taylor, 35, would become the second-youngest active head coach in the NFL, behind only his current boss, Rams head coach Sean McVay, who turns 33 on Jan. 24. He interviewed for the Denver Broncos’ and Arizona Cardinals’ head-coaching vacancies before those teams hired Vic Fangio and Kliff Kingsbury, respectively.

A former Nebraska quarterback, Taylor is in his first year as QBs coach with the Rams after spending 2017 as assistant wide receivers coach.

–Pittsburgh Steelers president Art Rooney II cast serious doubt about the future of wide receiver Antonio Brown with the team, in an interview with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

“As we sit here today, it’s hard to envision that,” Rooney said when asked if Brown would be with the Steelers when they open training camp in July. “But there’s no sense on closing the door on anything today.”

–Arizona interviewed Steve Sarkisian for their offensive coordinator vacancy and Joseph for their defensive coordinator vacancy, according to ESPN.

Sirius XM NFL reported that Sarkisian, who was fired last week after two seasons with Atlanta, and former Jacksonville Jaguars offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett are also contenders for the coordinator vacancy in Detroit.

Multiple outlets also reported that former New York Giants head coach Ben McAdoo would interview for a job on head coach Kliff Kingsbury’s staff.

–The Cleveland Browns have yet to officially announce Freddie Kitchens as their new head coach, but they are moving to fill out his staff.

NFL Network reported that former Detroit Lions offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter and former Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive coordinator Todd Monken will interview for the same position in Cleveland. ESPN reported that Vance Joseph, the ex-Denver Broncos head coach, will interview for the defensive vacancy.

–The Broncos agreed to terms with longtime defensive coordinator Vic Fangio to become the 17th head coach in franchise history, general manager John Elway announced. Fangio, boasting 32 years of NFL coaching experience, succeeds Joseph for his first stint as an NFL head coach.

“Vic really impressed us with his attention to detail — his focus is on teaching the fundamentals, technique and playing disciplined football,” Elway said.

Former Houston Texans and Broncos coach Gary Kubiak will come down from the Denver front office to oversee the offense of the Broncos.

–The New York Jets’ hiring of Adam Gase as head coach has received a major vote of approval from at least one important voice on the team — starting quarterback Sam Darnold.

“It was a tough decision, but I think Gase and the things he’s able to do, the way he’s able to lead, I think is the best thing for our team,” Darnold told ESPN during a phone interview on Thursday.

“I’m really, really excited about this opportunity and all the things Adam can bring this team,” said Darnold, who spoke with Gase on FaceTime for 10 minutes on Monday. “For us, it’s about winning. How do you do that? You score more points than the other team.”

–Running back Leonard Fournette met with Jacksonville vice president of football operations Tom Coughlin and the rest of the team’s brass to clear the air, NFL Network reported. The meeting apparently went well on both sides, and Fournette should be part of the team’s 2019 plans.

Fournette and fellow running back T.J. Yeldon drew Coughlin’s ire for sitting on the team’s bench for the duration of the season finale, prompting Coughlin to say both players were “disrespectful, selfish and their behavior was unbecoming that of a professional football player.”

–The legal team for Carolina Panthers safety Eric Reid rejected the findings in a report released Wednesday by NFL/NFLPA that there was no evidence he was targeted for drug testing and are demanding a response on the matter, according to a report by CBSsports.com.

–Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Ryan Grant has been ruled out of Saturday’s divisional playoff game at Kansas City due to a toe injury. Safety Malik Hooker was also listed as questionable with a foot injury.

–Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Cole Beasley and tight end Blake Jarwin missed practice again with ankle injuries and are listed as questionable for Saturday’s divisional playoff game against the Rams.

–Kansas City Chiefs safety Eric Berry (heel), wideout Sammy Watkins (foot) and running back Spencer Ware (hamstring) are all questionable for Saturday’s playoff game against Indianapolis.

–Cleveland announced that guard Joel Bitonio has been added to the 2019 AFC Pro Bowl roster, replacing injured Steelers guard David DeCastro.

–The Jets are considering three former head coaches to fill their defensive coordinator position under Gase, according to multiple reports. The list includes Gregg Williams, who was let go by Cleveland earlier this week.

NFL.com reported that Joseph is also under consideration, and CBSSports.com reported that former Indianapolis coach Chuck Pagano is on the list.

–Field Level Media

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Reports: Browns interview OC Cooter, DC Joseph

Reports: Browns interview OC Cooter, DC Joseph

The Cleveland Browns have yet to officially announce

Reports: Browns interview OC Cooter, DC Joseph

The Cleveland Browns have yet to officially announce Freddie Kitchens as their new head coach, but they are taking steps to fill out his staff.

NFL Network reports former Detroit Lions offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter will interview for the same position in, and ESPN reports former Denver Broncos head coach Vance Joseph will interview for the defensive vacancy.

ESPN’s report added that Joseph interviewed for the same position with the Arizona Cardinals on Thursday.

The Lions chose not to renew Cooter’s contract last week, ending his three-plus-year tenure as the team’s coordinator. After joining Detroit as a quarterbacks coach in 2014, Cooter was promoted to interim offensive coordinator midway through 2015.

He helped Matthew Stafford have a career season in 2017, as the Lions finished seventh in points and 13th in yards that season. However, Detroit finished 25th in points and 24th in yards in 2018, more in line with its rankings in 2015 and 2016.

Joseph was fired by the Broncos last week after two seasons. He is considered a contender for the Cincinnati Bengals’ head-coaching job and the New York Jets’ coordinator job. He worked previously in Cincinnati and has familiarity with new Jets head coach Adam Gase after they worked together in Miami.

News broke Wednesday that Kitchens would be the Browns’ next head coach, but the team has yet to make it official. Kitchens is expected to keep his offense and call his own plays after quarterback Baker Mayfield thrived following Kitchens’ promotion to offensive coordinator midseason.

The team moved on from interim head coach and defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, who released a statement Wednesday thanking Browns fans for their support.

–Field Level Media

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Reports: Browns interview Cooter, Monken, Joseph

Reports: Browns interview Cooter, Monken, Joseph

The Cleveland Browns have yet to officially announce Freddie

Reports: Browns interview Cooter, Monken, Joseph

The Cleveland Browns have yet to officially announce Freddie Kitchens as their new head coach, but they are taking steps to fill out his staff.

NFL Network reports former Detroit Lions offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter and former Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive coordinator Todd Monken will interview for the same position in Cleveland.

ESPN reports former Denver Broncos head coach Vance Joseph will interview for the Browns’ defensive vacancy, adding that Joseph interviewed for the same position with the Arizona Cardinals on Thursday.

The Lions chose not to renew Cooter’s contract last week, ending his three-plus-year tenure as the team’s coordinator. After joining Detroit as a quarterbacks coach in 2014, Cooter was promoted to interim offensive coordinator midway through 2015.

He helped Matthew Stafford have a career season in 2017, as the Lions finished seventh in points and 13th in yards that season. However, Detroit finished 25th in points and 24th in yards in 2018, more in line with its rankings in 2015 and 2016.

Monken interviewed for head-coaching vacancies with the New York Jets — who hired Adam Gase — and the Cincinnati Bengals, who reportedly hope to hire Los Angeles Rams quarterbacks coach Zac Taylor for the job.

Monken helped the Bucs’ offense finish third in yards and 12th in points this season, but he won’t return to Tampa after the team hired Bruce Arians, whose offensive coordinator will be Byron Leftwich.

Joseph was fired by the Broncos last week after two seasons. He was considered a contender for the Bengals’ head-coaching job, and could still be in the mix for the Jets’ coordinator job. He worked previously in Cincinnati and has familiarity with Gase after they worked together in Miami.

News broke Wednesday that Kitchens would be the Browns’ next head coach, but the team has yet to make it official. Kitchens is expected to keep his offense and call his own plays after quarterback Baker Mayfield thrived following Kitchens’ promotion to offensive coordinator midseason.

The team moved on from interim head coach and defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, who released a statement Wednesday thanking Browns fans for their support.

–Field Level Media

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Reports: Sarkisian, Joseph interview with Cardinals

Reports: Sarkisian, Joseph interview with Cardinals

The

Reports: Sarkisian, Joseph interview with Cardinals

The Arizona Cardinals interviewed Steve Sarkisian for their offensive-coordinator vacancy and Vance Joseph for their defensive-coordinator vacancy on Thursday, according to various ESPN reports.

New Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury is expected to call plays and run his own offense in Arizona, but the team appears set on hiring an offensive coordinator to assist him.

Sarkisian, who was fired last week after two seasons leading the Atlanta Falcons’ offense, had spent all but one year of his coaching career in college prior to 2017, the lone exception being a stint as the Oakland Raiders quarterbacks coach in 2004. Atlanta finished 11th in points and seventh in yards in 2017 before slipping to 17th in both categories this season.

Sirius XM NFL reports Sarkisian and former Jacksonville Jaguars offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett are contenders for the coordinator vacancy in Detroit.

Meanwhile, Joseph is considered a contender for the Cincinnati Bengals’ head-coaching job and the New York Jets’ coordinator job, after being fired by the Denver Broncos last week. He worked previously in Cincinnati and has familiarity with new Jets head coach Adam Gase after they worked together in Miami.

An ESPN report Wednesday added that Joseph will interview next with the Cleveland Browns’ for their defensive opening.

Cardinals general manager Steve Keim said at Wednesday’s news conference that the Cardinals will move back to a 3-4 defensive scheme after shifting to a 4-3 during Steve Wilks’ one season as head coach.

Joseph’s Broncos ran a 3-4 scheme that was carried over from Wade Phillips in previous seasons, but Joseph’s defenses in Miami and Cincinnati were 4-3 based.

–Field Level Media

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Report: Panthers sticking with Washington as DC

Report: Panthers sticking with Washington as DC

The Carolina Panthers will reportedly retain Eric Washington as defensive

Report: Panthers sticking with Washington as DC

The Carolina Panthers will reportedly retain Eric Washington as defensive coordinator, although head coach Ron Rivera will continue to call the defensive plays in 2019.

There was some speculation about Washington’s job status this week as the team held interviews with former Indianapolis head coach Chuck Pagano and former Jacksonville defensive backs coach Perry Fewell.

However, those interviews were not for the role of defensive coordinator, according to The Charlotte Observer. The Panthers are trying to hire a new secondary/cornerbacks coach, the newspaper reported on Thursday, citing league sources.

The Panthers played the final four games of 2018 with Washington as the DC and “front seven” coach, with Rivera calling the defensive plays.

–Field Level Media

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Browns G Bitonio replacing DeCastro in Pro Bowl

Browns G Bitonio replacing DeCastro in Pro Bowl

The Cleveland

Browns G Bitonio replacing DeCastro in Pro Bowl

The Cleveland Browns announced Thursday that guard Joel Bitonio has been added to the 2019 AFC Pro Bowl roster, replacing injured Pittsburgh Steelers guard David DeCastro. Bitonio, initially named a first-team alternate, joins defensive end Myles Garrett and rookie cornerback Denzel Ward as Browns representatives.

“I am so honored to be able to represent the city of Cleveland and all the great Browns fans at the Pro Bowl,” Bitonio said in a press release. “It’s good to be recognized by the players, coaches and fans for your hard work. What’s really cool, though, is that I can share this honor with Myles and Denzel, but I wish all our offensive linemen could come, too, because it’s a group effort.”

Bitonio’s Pro Bowl selection marks the first in his five-year NFL career. The 27-year-old team captain is currently the longest-tenured team member. In 2018, he started all 16 games at left guard and did not miss an offensive snap for the second consecutive season. Bitonio was voted a second-team Associated Press All-Pro selection.

The 2019 Pro Bowl is set for Jan. 27 in Orlando, Fla.

–Field Level Media

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Giants’ Vernon replaces Bears’ Mack in Pro Bowl

Giants' Vernon replaces Bears' Mack in Pro Bowl

Giants’ Vernon replaces Bears’ Mack in Pro Bowl

New York Giants outside linebacker Olivier Vernon is headed to his first Pro Bowl as an injury replacement for Chicago Bears linebacker Khalil Mack.

Mack was not listed on any Bears injury reports after Week 10, but he dealt with an ankle issue during the season and will now pass on the game in Orlando.

Vernon missed five games to injury had just seven sacks this season, which tied for 21st in the NFC, but only six players topped his 21 QB hits. He also chipped in 30 tackles (five for loss).

Vernon, 28, has 22 sacks and 56 QB hits in three years with the Giants, whom he joined on a five-year, $85 million deal as a free agent in 2016. He has 51 sacks and 130 QB hits in his seven-year career, including his first four seasons with the Miami Dolphins.

A native of Miami who attended the University of Miami, Vernon was selected by his hometown team in the third round of the 2012 draft.

Mack, 27, was acquired by the Bears from the Oakland Raiders in an early-September trade. In 14 games (13 starts) for Chicago, he had 12.5 sacks, six forced fumbles and an interception that he returned for a touchdown.

The Pro Bowl will be held Jan. 27.

–Field Level Media

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Chargers sign K Rose; RB Gordon practices

Chargers sign K Rose; RB Gordon practices

Chargers sign K Rose; RB Gordon practices

The Los Angeles Chargers will sign kicker Nick Rose, according to multiple reports Thursday, to handle kickoffs in their Sunday playoff game against the New England Patriots.

The team has yet to announce the move.

Michael Badgley has proven reliable as the Chargers’ placekicker, making 5 of 6 field-goal attempts last week and 15 of 16 during the regular season. However, he has just nine touchbacks on 60 kickoffs (including playoffs) this season, easily the worst rate among qualified kickers.

Rose, who missed 2 of 3 field goal attempts with the Chargers in 2017, has 32 touchbacks on 47 career kickoffs since going undrafted out of Texas in 2016. He also converted on 10 of 11 field goal tries for the Washington Redskins in the first part of the 2017 season.

Patriots kick returner Cordarrelle Patterson averaged 28.8 yards per return in the regular season, scoring once.

“They have one of the best kick returners that I’ve seen in a long time,” Chargers coach Anthony Lynn said earlier this week. “So that’s going to be a heck of a challenge for our special teams. It’s a good thing we have one of the better cover units in the league right now, but that’s going to be a heck of a challenge.”

Meanwhile, Chargers running back Melvin Gordon was back at practice on a limited basis Thursday and vowed to play through his left knee sprain.

“Just hurt it a little bit,” Gordon said. “Throw a little dirt on it, I’ll be all right.”

Gordon reportedly has a light sprain in his left knee after missing three games late in the year with a similar injury to his right knee. All indications are that he will play Sunday.

Center Mike Pouncey returned to a full practice Thursday after missing Wednesday’s session with a thumb injury.

–Field Level Media

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Cowboys WR Beasley, TE Jarwin questionable

Cowboys WR Beasley, TE Jarwin questionable

Dallas Cowboys wide receiver

Cowboys WR Beasley, TE Jarwin questionable

Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Cole Beasley and tight end Blake Jarwin both missed practice again Thursday with ankle injuries and are listed as questionable for Saturday night’s divisional playoff game against the Los Angeles Rams.

Neither player practiced this week. The Cowboys are already at less than full strength in the passing game after losing wide receiver Allen Hurns to a dislocated left ankle in last weekend’s wild-card win against Seattle.

Beasley caught 65 passes for 672 yards and three touchdowns in 16 games this season. The seventh-year wideout tweaked the ankle — which had already been bugging him — early in the game against the Seahawks, finishing with three catches for 28 yards.

Jarwin had 27 receptions for 307 yards in 16 games this season, including 119 yards and three TDs in a Week 17 win against the New York Giants. He had three grabs for 15 yards last week against Seattle.

Defensive tackle Maliek Collins (illness, ankle), guard Xavier Su’a-Filo (ankle) and safety Darian Thompson (groin) were also listed as questionable on Thursday’s injury report. Defensive lineman David Irving (ankle) remains out.

The good news for Dallas is that left tackle Tyron Smith (neck), right guard Zack Martin (knee), linebacker Sean Lee (hamstring), defensive end Tyrone Crawford (neck) and wide receivers Tavon Austin (groin) and Noah Brown (illness) were all full participants in Thursday’s session and are expected to play.

–Field Level Media

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Steelers’ Rooney: ‘Hard to envision’ Brown staying

Steelers' Rooney: 'Hard to envision' Brown staying

Steelers’ Rooney: ‘Hard to envision’ Brown staying

Pittsburgh Steelers president Art Rooney II cast serious doubt about the future of wide receiver Antonio Brown with the team, in an interview with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Thursday.

“As we sit here today, it’s hard to envision that,” Rooney told the newspaper when asked if Brown would be with the Steelers when they open training camp in July. “But there’s no sense on closing the door on anything today.”

Rooney added the team hasn’t made any firm decisions, though it won’t simply cut Brown.

“We’ll look at all the options,” Rooney said “We’re not going to release him, that’s not on the table. But I will say all other options are on the table.

“Whether the situation can be reconciled and have him back on the team next year, we’re a long way away from thinking that can happen. We’re not closing the door on anything at this point.”

Brown skipped practices and team meetings and didn’t answer phone calls from Rooney, head coach Mike Tomlin or teammates leading up to the regular-season finale. He then showed up to play against the Cincinnati Bengals, but the team held Brown out. The wideout was listed on the injury report with knee soreness, but many have questioned his injury, and reports have said teammates felt he quit on them.

Tomlin acknowledged last week that Brown might have become more of a distraction than he’s worth.

Just last February, the Steelers decided Brown was worth a four-year, $68 million extension, the richest in NFL history for a wide receiver at the time. As a result, there would be serious cap implications if Pittsburgh were to move on. The Steelers would save more than $15 million in real money in 2019, but they would owe $21.12 million in dead money against the cap, compared to Brown’s $22.165 million cap hit if he remains on the roster.

“That has to be taken into consideration,” Rooney told the Post-Gazette of cap implications, “but, as I sit here today, I’m not going to say that’s going to box us into anything. If we decide something has to be done, we’ll figure out how to deal with that.”

When Rooney was asked specifically about the possibility of a trade, he replied, “I’m not going to use those words. All options are on the table. We have two months to go before we can do anything. There’s no sense making the decision now. We’ll see how things play out. Maybe he decides to come talk to us some day and we learn more about where he is. We’ll see.”

Brown, 30, cannot be traded until March 13, when the NFL’s 2019 season officially opens. The Steelers would likely make a decision on his status before March 17, when he is due a $2.5 million roster bonus.

The Post-Gazette reports the team has not been in contact with Brown, who has not returned repeated phone calls from Rooney and Tomlin.

Rooney acknowledged that teammates’ opinions about Brown possibly returning in 2019 will be factors in the decision-making process. He also indicated that the issues with Brown at the end of the season are likely part of a broader problem.

“My belief is there’s more to it than an incident one day at practice,” Rooney said. “That’s one of the reasons I would have liked to talk to him about it — what it was and how it got to this point.”

A seven-time Pro Bowl and four-time All-Pro selection, Brown caught 104 passes for 1,297 yards and a career-high 15 touchdowns in 2018.

Brown ranks second in Steelers history behind Hines Ward in career receptions (837), receiving yards (11,207) and touchdown catches (74).

–Field Level Media

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